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Project PANOPTES: the good, the bad, and the ugly challenges of running a successful Pro-Am astronomy project (Conference Presentation)
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Paper Abstract

PANOPTES is a citizen-science based project to discover exoplanets with consumer cameras. It is open source and aims to be highly efficient at collecting photometric data by running a wide field survey using DSLR cameras and standard lenses. In the two years since the demonstration of the baseline design at SPIE 2016 the project has moved forward in getting the hardware design ready for citizen scientists and data analysis, benefiting from an influx of both professional and amateur support. At the same time the project has experienced a number of challenges related to the nature of a grassroots project with no specific institutional home. Here we present a status update to the project with a focus on the issues associated with creating, and maintaining, a successful “pro-am” astronomy project. This talk will specifically focus on a couple of keys concepts related to the operation of PANOPTES as a distributed observatory built by a collection of professional and amateur astronomers. These concepts can largely be broken down as: software; hardware; and organizational. However, a central theme of the talk will also be the fact that PANOPTES operates without a centralized institution, which means that decisions related to software and hardware are necessarily tied into the organizational decisions. Likewise, since the project has no official operating budget but operates largely off the budgets of each individual team (in addition to a NASA/JPL grant, the attainment of which will also be discussed), the hardware decisions and the evolving landscape of commercial over-the-counter (COTC) hardware play a significant role in the operation and maintenance of the project as a whole, which in turn affects how the software is developed. Through all of these areas PANOPTES has experienced successes and failures as well as simple deviations from original plans. As a project we have benefited enormously from the donation of time and storage on the Google Cloud Platform (GCP), allowing us to explore technologies and solutions that would otherwise be unfeasible, but as an unofficial project we have been unable to secure a permanent formal agreement with GCP, creating challenges related to the long-term viability of those software solutions. Being a unique project that aims to be as scientifically productive as it is successful as an outreach tool, it is hoped that the talk will provide some valuable learned lessons for any future projects that hope to utilize the unique professional-amateur dynamic that exists within the field of astronomy and open-source software.

Paper Details

Date Published: 10 July 2018
Proc. SPIE 10707, Software and Cyberinfrastructure for Astronomy V, 1070702 (10 July 2018); doi: 10.1117/12.2314317
Show Author Affiliations
Wilfred T. Gee, Macquarie Univ. (Australia)
Christian Schwab, Macquarie Univ. (Australia)
Australian Astronomical Observatory (Australia)
David Coutts, Macquarie Univ. (Australia)
Olivier Guyon, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (United States)
Josh Walawender, W. M. Keck Observatory (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 10707:
Software and Cyberinfrastructure for Astronomy V
Juan C. Guzman; Jorge Ibsen, Editor(s)

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