Many IMO members who have access to online services and the Internet are already aware of a new service of IMO, other may have not yet come across it: Since November 1995, IMO has been providing a wealth of information on meteor observation via an own homepage in the World Wide Web (WWW).
The WWW is one information system of the computer network Internet, which connects
several million computers world-wide. The Internet was founded in the sixtieth from the
American Department of Defence and grew especially in the eightieth to an international
network, that connected research facilities like universities, science centers and high schools as
well as government institutions, commercial enterprises and other organisations.
In the last few years, many online services were established, which give private users the chance to access the resources of the Internet. Services like electronic mail, file transfer or news groups became available to everybody. This marked the beginning of a new age of international cooperation and communication between meteor observers, which became especially obvious during the Perseid maximum in 1993.
Today, more than 40 million people can be reached via electronic mail world-wide, and new services are growing rapidly.
The best known 'new' information system is the World Wide Web. It was invented some five
years ago to overcome problems of existing hierarchic information systems. The underlying
idea was, that information resources should be stored distributedly everywhere in the world,
connected to one another via many logical links like in a web.
Each WWW document has an unique address (the Uniform Resource Locator URL), under which it can be referenced from other documents. All pages follow a special syntax called HTML (HyperText Markup Language), that describes, how the information is to be displayed by a document browser. WWW documents contain formatted texts, images and links to other documents. However, links can also point to all types of files, file archives, databases outside the WWW or other data.
Today, the WWW incorporates all 'classic' Internet services like e-mail or news. Actual extensions include even scripts, that perform certain action on your computer.
The success of the WWW was its simplicity. You can easily create own documents and 'surf' through the Web just with the click of your mouse. The graphical user interface is intuitive, and due to the non-hierarchic structure it is easy to find interesting web pages. You do not take care, whether the information you are accessing is stored locally or on some Internet computer elsewhere in the world, since the underlying network is completely hidden. Each time you begin your session from a start document, the homepage. From here you get to other documents either by following the links that are offered, or by typing the URL of the requested document.
In the last few years, the number of available documents has grown exponentially. Today, there is virtually no topic, which is not extensively covered somewhere in the WWW. It has grown from a database tool of a small group of scientists to the largest world-wide online information service. The major problem that often arises is to actually find the information you are looking for. In fact, there are several automatic search engines, which give you a list of links for each key word you specify, but none of those can be complete. There are many catalogs and almost every homepage contains an own list of interesting links to other documents, but there is no directory which includes everything.
The idea of an own IMO homepage was proposed in early 1995 by Rainer Arlt. At that time, there was almost no serious information on meteor observation available in the Internet. The topic was discussed in detail at the 1995 IMC, and in November the first version of IMO's homepage became available in the WWW under its URL http://www.imo.net/ (Figure 1).
Detailed descriptions and introductions into all meteor observing methods form the main part of the web pages: The visual section is provided by Rainer Arlt. It describes the observation of major and minor meteor showers with naked eyes and answers many common questions like how to carry out an observation, how to determine the limiting magnitude and how to report the results. Andrè Knöfel developed and maintains the section on fireball observation, which includes an online fireball report form and many useful hints on fireball observation as well as an electronic version of the FIDAC-News. Information on video observation, including demos, current results and literature references, are contributed by Sirko Molau. Radio observations are discussed in detail by Jean-Marc Wislez, who provides both the basic know-how of radio observation and contact addresses as well as a literature reference list. Marc de Lignie has taken over the responsibility for the photographic section. It helps you to set up your own photographic system and gives many useful comments on photographic work. In the near future, Malcolm Currie will complete the observer pages with information on telescopic meteor work.
The homepage of IMO contains many more documents like the latest update of the "Who is Who" (with limited personal data only) and meteor shower calendars. You can read about current observational results soon after their analysis in the news section, another page provides a collection of meteor astronomy related links to other web sites in the Internet. Furthermore, IMO's pages contain an (incomplete) index to WGN articles as well as general information like the aim of IMO, how to join the organization and available IMO publications.
Since its installation at the WWW server of the Technical University of Chemnitz, the homepage of IMO enjoys growing interest among people in the Internet. So far, more than 6000 visitors accessed the page, and IMO's commissioners got positive feedback via e-mail messages. Beside that, many local meteor groups like the Dutch Meteor Society or the North American Meteor Network have put own homepages to the web, which completes the available amount of information and supports the rapid exchange of ideas and results between the meteor groups.
Another service that was started at the end of 1995, is the IMO-News mailing list, which has currently some 130 subscribers. Especially after the outburst of the alpha-Monocerotids it became obvious, that there was no effective tool for fast information exchange between all meteor observers. Observations and analysis results where sent chaotic from one person to the next; some people did obtain messages several times, whereas others did not get them at all. Thus, Jean-Marc Wislez proposed to install a mailing list, which was created soon afterwards.
A mailing list works like a newspaper: You send a message with your name and e-mail address
to the request address email@example.com (or visit the IMO web site at
http://www.imo.net/news/imo-news.html) and say, that you want to subscribe
to the mailing list. You are added to the distribution list and receive then all e-mail messages,
that are send to the list address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Everybody (IMO members and non-members) can subscribe to the list and send message to it. However, there are certain rules what should send and what shouldn't, which can be found at IMO's homepage. IMO-News focuses on actual meteor observations and results obtained by meteor observers around the world. The purpose of that mailing list is not the discussion of basic meteor observation questions (for that you can browse the web pages or join other mailing lists like meteorobs, for example), but the fast delivery of especially interesting observations and analysis results. The mailing list is open for calls for observations and expeditions and requests for data. You should never send messages that are not related to meteor astronomy or that are extremely long.
The Internet is a fast living community. Things change frequently and descriptions are often out of date once they are printed. We intend to move the homepage of IMO to another server, so the addresses given above may soon not be valid anymore. However, changes of the addresses will be announced in WGN. In addition, you can always contact any IMO commissioner or the providers of the observer sections mentioned above to obtain the current URL of the homepage of IMO.