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Why Capture Astronomical Records on The Blockchain?

Josh Habka

§1 Introduction

What Is the Blockchain?

The blockchain is a technology which allows for capturing, tracking, and sharing of digital assets across a decentralized, distributed ledger. Assets which utilize the blockchain include cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens, smart-contracts, and more.

What Is A Non-Fungible Token?

A non-fungible token, popularly called NFTs, are digital assets which have been tokenized on the blockchain which act as a unique digital identifier to certify ownership and other data about the NFT. Non-fungible means the asset can not be readily interchanges for another of like kind, meaning they are absolutely unique.

Figure 1. This an an example of a popular NFT from the "Bored Ape Yacht Club" collection which is a collection of automatically generated art NFTs. These NFTs can be minted(created), traded, and sold to others. While the above appears to just be an image, it has digital presence on the blockchain.

let's further break this image down to its respective components which derive its respective properties and traits.

What Is A Smart Contract?

A Smart Contract is a protocol which automatically executes when certain predetermined preconditions are met on the blockchain. This is useful to ensure security of transactions and minting and distribution of non-fungible tokens(NFTs).

What Is The InterPlanetary File System(IPFS?)

The Interplanetary File System is an peer-to-peer(P2P) protocol which allows blockchain dApps(decentralized apps) and smart contracts(as shown in the NFT image above) to use for distributed data storage. In the case above, the IPFS is being utilized to store two things:

  • An image of the Ape NFT
  • Attributes of the Ape NFT, often called "Metadata"

By accessing the JSON(JavaScript Object Notation) file of the NFT above, we can see the following response:

{
  "image": "ipfs://QmQDoroqPTqusD6ErQ5cWpYHDn52V1f1tLEwFd5KdR9vtB",
  "attributes": [
    {
      "trait_type": "Mouth",
      "value": "Phoneme Vuh"
    },
    {
      "trait_type": "Background",
      "value": "Blue"
    },
    {
      "trait_type": "Fur",
      "value": "Trippy"
    },
    {
      "trait_type": "Eyes",
      "value": "Heart"
    },
    {
      "trait_type": "Hat",
      "value": "King's Crown"
    }
  ]
}

The "trait_type" record indicates what type of trait the value is for. For the first example:

    {
      "trait_type": "Mouth",
      "value": "Phoneme Vuh"
    },

we can see the "trait_type" is "Mouth" and the "value" is "Phoneme Vuh". That means "Phoneme Vuh" is the mouth the Ape(referencing Figure 1) has.

Now, let's take a look at this part:

"image": "ipfs://QmQDoroqPTqusD6ErQ5cWpYHDn52V1f1tLEwFd5KdR9vtB",

Above, shows a record field, "image", with a key value, "ipfs://QmQDoroqPTqusD6ErQ5cWpYHDn52V1f1tLEwFd5KdR9vtB"

Notice how "ipfs://" is like the "https://" in your web browser? That's because they are different protocols, or sets of rules that allows multiple entities to transmit data. Within the ipfs data below:

QmQDoroqPTqusD6ErQ5cWpYHDn52V1f1tLEwFd5KdR9vtB

is what's know as the CID, or Content Identifier, which acts as a label to identity the particular file stored on the IPFS network. Instead of files being stores in a centralized location, such as a server room, they can be stored in a distributed network ran by volunteers around the world. This can provide the following benefits:

  • Avoid algorithms
  • Reduce file access sizes
  • Reduce possibility of data being destroyed in the future

Anyone with a hard drive can allow files from the IPFS network(running a "node") to be stored on their computer in a secure way through the protocol. There are similar systems, such as Filecoin(⨎), which pay users for renting out a portion of space to be used on the IPFS.

This, combined with the smart contract above, allows for a unique non-fungible token to exist on the blockchain and can be sold, traded, minted(created), and purchased by others.

§2 Astronomical Captures on The Blockchain

Let's say we're looking at the Helix Nebula instead of the Ape NFT above:

Figure 2. Helix Nebula, NGC 7293. Credit(Hubble Space Telescope)

From the Helix Nebula, we can determine the following data from observing the nebula as of 1/24/2024.

Apparant Magnitude: +7.6

Apparant Dimensions: 25'

Constellation: Aquarius

Above is an example of a few data values of the Helix Nebula. Just like the Ape NFT from above, we can represent this in the form the JSON format:

{
  "attributes": [
    {
      "data_type": "apparantMagnitude",
      "value": "+7.6"
    },
    {
      "data_type": "apparentDimension",
      "value": "25'"
    },
    {
      "data_type": "constellation",
      "value": "Aquarius"
    },
  ]
}

Along with the image file which has been uploaded to the IPFS network and has been assigned an example CID, qre465D6ErQ5cWpYHD6465FITcdfijf8.

{
  "image": "ipfs://qre465D6ErQ5cWpYHD6465FITcdfijf8",
  "attributes": [
    {
      "data_type": "apparantMagnitude",
      "value": "+7.6"
    },
    {
      "data_type": "apparentDimension",
      "value": "25'"
    },
    {
      "data_type": "constellation",
      "value": "Aquarius"
    },
  ]
}

This is a extremely basic idea of how a astronomical capture can be represented on the IPFS, in which additional data(such as capture instrumentation information and other live links can be added).

We Can Do The Same Thing With Schema Markup and Structured Data, So Why The Blockchain?

Besides the aforementioned benefits of utilizing the blockchain, storing astronomical captures come with the following benefits:

Traceable Funding and Attribution

Utilizing blockchain for astronomical data storage enables transparent tracking of funding sources and proper attribution to contributors, fostering a culture of recognition and accountability within the scientific community.

Global Accessibility

Blockchain facilitates global accessibility to astronomical data by removing geographical barriers and ensuring that researchers worldwide can contribute to and benefit from a distributed, universally accessible repository of celestial observations.

Long-Term Data Preservation

Blockchain's inherent resilience and redundancy mechanisms contribute to long-term preservation of astronomical data, mitigating the risk of data loss or degradation over time.

Tokenization for Data Incentives

Introducing token-based incentives on the blockchain can encourage data sharing and collaboration among astronomers, fostering a community-driven approach to expanding our understanding of the cosmos.

Interoperability and Standardization

By leveraging blockchain standards, such as those developed by international astronomical organizations, interoperability among diverse datasets becomes seamless, promoting standardized formats and protocols for improved data compatibility.

Enhanced Security

Utilizing cryptographic principles, blockchain technology enhances the security of astronomical data, safeguarding it from unauthorized access and cyber threats that traditional centralized databases and observatories may be susceptible to.

Transparent Data Access:

Blockchain provides transparent and auditable access to astronomical data, allowing researchers to trace the origin and evolution of datasets, enhancing collaboration, and facilitating reproducibility of scientific findings.

Smart Contracts for Automated Verification

Smart contracts can be employed to automatically verify and validate astronomical data, streamlining the process of confirming the accuracy of observations and reducing the potential for human error.

Decentralized Trust

Blockchain's decentralized nature eliminates the need for a central authority, fostering trust in the authenticity of astronomical data among researchers globally without relying on a single source or institution.

Immutable Record Keeping

Storing astronomical data on the blockchain ensures an immutable and tamper-resistant record, preventing unauthorized alterations and maintaining the integrity of scientific observations.

Reduced Data Redundancy and Bandwidth Efficiency

Utilizing the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) in storing astronomical data leads to reduced data redundancy and enhanced bandwidth efficiency. IPFS employs a content-addressed protocol, where unique content is identified by its cryptographic hash. This eliminates the need for duplicate storage of identical data across multiple locations, optimizing storage resources and minimizing the bandwidth required for data retrieval. As a result, astronomers can access and share data more efficiently, reducing overall data transfer and storage costs in the process.

Enhanced Data Availability and Fault Tolerance

IPFS facilitates decentralized storage by breaking down data into smaller chunks, distributing them across a network of nodes. This decentralized approach enhances data availability and fault tolerance. Even if some nodes in the network are unavailable or experience failures, the remaining nodes can collaboratively ensure the retrieval and integrity of the complete astronomical dataset. This resilience to node failures contributes to a more robust and reliable system for accessing critical astronomical data.

The AstroFeed™

AstroFeed™ is a social platform designed specifically for astrophotographers and space enthusiasts. It allows users to share their work with a community of like-minded individuals, and provides a royalty program that ensures fair compensation for their efforts. The platform is built on the AstroChain™ dApp (decentralised application), making it easy for users to mint their content onto the blockchain and ensure the protection of their rights.

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