One of the indisputable advantages of the Internet is accessibility of information, in particular for educational purposes, inside and outside schools.
Vast collections of what we photograph, study and catalogue are available by typing a few words and clicking on a few tabs. For someone who grew up scavenging local libraries to retrieve what little information was available, this accessibility is nothing short of a revolution — and an amazing one.
Inspired by a recent article by Michael Roston of The New York Times, here is a short compilation of catalogues of living creatures and celestial objects. Roston's article has many links to digitized natural history collections, some gorgeously illustrated, others more scholarly and mostly about classification.
One that stands out is the Encyclopedia of Life, accessible here. Another is the Smithsonian's catalogue, in particular this one on butterflies and moths. And here is an amazing collection of 50 of the "most beautiful exotic animals on planet Earth" from pxleyes.com.
As we move to outer space, my favorite is the gallery of images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. It's easily accessible and you can choose where to focus your search: galaxies, stars, planets, the universe.... For highlights, NASA's Hubble team has recently compiled a free e-book with 25 breathtaking images to celebrate Hubble's 25th anniversary. It's an amazing trip through the universe that every child (and adult) should take.
These collections result from the joint ability to develop the remarkable tools to photograph living creatures and celestial objects near and (very!) far — and to store them in digital format available free of charge to anyone in the world with Internet access.
Many of these technologies are no more than three decades old, making them one of the great achievements of this generation.
Marcelo Gleiser is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist — and professor of natural philosophy, physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College. He is the co-founder of 13.7, a prolific author of papers and essays, and active promoter of science to the general public. His latest book is The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning. You can keep up with Marcelo on Facebook and Twitter: @mgleiser.