PASADENA, CALIFORNIA--Researchers with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) released all of their first year of observations here on 5 June at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting. By providing free data to anyone with an Internet connection, the architects of the ambitious 5-year project hope to usher in a new egalitarian era of astronomical research. "From now on, the bulk of the science results will come from scientists around the world who weren't involved in collecting the data," says the spokesperson for the SDSS team, University of Chicago cosmologist Michael Turner.
The ambitious goal of SDSS is to build a public database containing a complete multicolor, three-dimensional map of the entire universe. For more than a year, two dedicated telescopes at Apache Point, New Mexico, have been collecting data. Important discoveries so far include regularly setting the record for the most distant object in the universe. (The team announced today that the record is now held by a quasar that formed only 800 million years after the Big Bang.) But until now, no one outside the 200-strong team could get their hands on the information.
Now the SDSS collaboration has publicly released its first year of data: a collection of images and spectra of more than 14 million objects that is already the largest astronomical database in the world. Astronomers are often tight-fisted with their hard-earned data, particularly if they haven't finished their own analysis. But the SDSS team was happy to spread the wealth. "This sample is so good that it is worth sharing with the world," says Fermilab astrophysicist and SDSS team member Chris Stoughton.
The astronomy community couldn't agree more. "I am wowed by the breadth and depth of this first release," says AAS President and Caltech astronomer Annelia Sargent. And this is just the beginning. The SDSS collaboration plans annual releases for the duration of the 5-year survey of the entire sky.
An article about the SDSS collaboration (Science, 25 May, p. 1474)
The SDSS SkyServer Navigation Tool
The SDSS Query Tool for finding samples of objects