ASTRONOMERS PEERING INTO THE HEAVENS ARE GETTING a boost from another kind of space--cyberspace. At Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, researchers capture images of mysterious, short-lived bursts of gamma rays in space. Their telescope takes good pictures but may not be looking where bursts are likely to occur. So astronomers rely on an orbiting observatory. It finds the bursts and alerts a ground station in Maryland, where computers calculate the coordinates and relay them to Livermore over the Net.
Livermore isn't alone. In October, responding to a tip on the Internet, scientists at the University of California's Lick Observatory made the first confirmed spotting of a planet outside our own solar system. And next year, scientists at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., will use a linked constellation of home pages on the World Wide Web to keep scientists around the world posted on its Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR), a collaboration with NASA. At the rendezvous, expected in June, 1997, NEAR will make the first comprehensive measurements of an asteroid's composition and structure (artist's concept above).