SITE VISIT: All of Astronomy

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Science  14 Jul 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5477, pp. 211
DOI: 10.1126/science.289.5477.211d

Physicists and astronomers were among the first to weave the World Wide Web in the early 1990s. As the number of astronomy sites soared, several astronomers gathered the random patterns of pages into an organized constellation. Today, their 6-year-old consortium, called AstroWeb, maintains a database of nearly 3000 astronomical resources—a Yahoo of sorts. There are links to about 500 astronomy departments, more than 300 observatories and satellites, dozens of newsgroups and mailing lists, and almost 800 researchers' Web pages. A robot checks each link daily “to ensure aliveness,” says one of AstroWeb's curators, Daniel Egret of the Strasbourg Astronomical Observatory in France. Those that fail to respond are banished to the dreaded “dead URLs” bin.

Strasbourg houses the main site, with mirror sites (featuring different sorting schemes) in Australia, England, Spain, and the United States. AstroWeb's primary users are professionals who need quick access to colleagues, institutions, and data (see p. 238), Egret says. Still, the site is a treasure trove for those who simply wish to wander the virtual universe. A large directory of “pretty picture” sites leads to dazzling astronomical images, while a history category opens portals to such intriguing topics as Chilean archaeoastronomy and astronomical links “with an Islamic flavour.”

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