Answering a tricky question with the KStars desktop planetarium package

In an earlier phase of my life, I worked as a professional astronomer, and I've loved space and astronomy since before I could pronounce the words. So naturally, I've gotten a lot of personal pleasure from the free software astronomy tools that are included in my Debian GNU/Linux system. But ironically, I haven't written about them much. Recently, though, I was asked a question which I used KStars to answer, so this is a good chance to talk about how to use it.

Can free software drive the fourth paradigm?

The biggest science story to hit the mainstream media in the last year was of course the big switch on at CERN. What made it such a great story for me was not just the sheer and audacious enormity of the enterprise or the humbling nobility of the colossal experiment but the story behind the story. That story was the absolutely central role of free software philosophy at the heart of everything CERN was (and is) doing. Despite the false start, CERN's search for the Higgs Boson has got into its stride. The same cannot be said for the car crash that is climate science, which may have inflicted terminal damage on the reputation of science. I believe the rigorous application of free software methodology in conjunction with the Fourth Paradigm may save it.

The Large Hadron Collider switches on. If it's the end of the world, it will be powered by GNU/Linux

You know a science story is big when an experiment gets first or second billing on the main evening news--and it's not even a slow news day. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is up and running as I write and as far as I can tell I'm still here, so it looks like the doomsayers were a little premature. Unless I'm writing this piece from the far side of the singularity of a black hole in a parallel universe.

The LHC is an huge experiment (a snip at $10 billion) to explore the very small and very energetic sub-atomic world to verify, amongst other things, if the Higgs Boson really exists. That will be a monumental triumph for science and the human spirit. I have always been fascinated by particle physics, despite by academic background in the Humanities and I will be following the progress at CERN with great interest. I am particularly pleased too because free software will be at the heart of this colossal human endeavour. GNU/Linux has been, is and will continue to power CERN's efforts. This is a wonderful opportunity to tell the world that Windows doesn't rule the roost.

Promoting the Public Domain with Creative Commons' CC0 Initiative

It used to be that you could safely assume a work was public domain unless there was a highly visible warning printed on it, containing both the copyright owner and the date of copyright (at least in the USA). This system also ensured that, when the work's copyright expired, you could tell from any copy that this was so—by simply adding the duration of copyright to the date printed in the work's copyright notice. The Berne Convention, however, changed all that by replacing the assumption of freedom with the assumption of monopoly, and it now takes extensive research to be sure a work is public domain.

The Creative Commons' new CC-Zero initiative, instigated largely as an adjunct to the Science Commons' "Protocol for Implementing Open Access Data" is designed to make things easier.

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