Dominic Ford

Dominic Ford

By day, I am a software developer working on the exoplanet search pipeline for the European Space Agency's PLATO mission, which is scheduled to launch in 2026. I am based at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, UK.

I previously led the development of the data-analysis pipeline for 4MOST's spectroscopic surveys of the Milky Way, working in Sofia Feltzing's group at Lund Observatory, Sweden (2017–2019). The volume of data 4MOST will collect poses some interesting challenges, since it will observe tens of thousands of spectra every night. In practice, machine-learning techniques are likely to offer the only affordable way to analyse such a large dataset, but the interpretation of their output can be challenging.

Projects I work on in my spare time

In my spare time, I work on many science communication and amateur astronomy projects:

  • In-The-Sky.org – A guide to what's visible in the night sky which I have been developing since 2012. It includes an extensive list of astronomical events spanning the years from 1950 to 2300, and automatically tailors the information it provides to wherever you happen to live on Earth.
  • Amateur astrophotography archive – In 2020, I worked with the British Astronomical Association to produce a searchable online database of amateur astronomical images.

    The archive went live in December 2020 with just over 40,000 images, searchable by object, object type, date, etc. We hope the archive should grow rapidly from here, as all BAA members can now upload a few images per day directly into the database, and the BAA also hopes to start uploading some of its extensive collection of historical images.

    The BAA's archives go back many decades, and should soon start to provide a really nice view of how amateur astronomy has changed over time. Until now there's been very limited public access to these images, so it's great to open up access to these images.

    In addition to the BAA's archive, I also keep my own personal archive of astrophotography.

  • ScienceDemos.org.uk – A collection of fun interactive online science demos, implemented in Javascript.
  • JSPlot – An open-source Javascript graph-plotting and vector-graphics library, designed for embedding scientific charts in websites. I use this library extensively throughout the websites I maintain.
  • HillTopViews.org.uk – A three-dimensional interactive terrain map of the Earth and Moon. The Earth maps are based on altitude data collected by NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) in 2000, combined with additional open-source data from Open Street Map. The Moon maps are based on a digital elevation model (DEM) from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA; Smith et al., 2010), an instrument on the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft (Tooley et al., 2010).

    In both cases, the data is displayed using a custom-built three-dimensional Javascript rendering engine.

  • Pi Gazing – A fun project to set up a network of motion-sensitive security cameras which are pointed upwards at the sky, and can triangulate the three-dimensional trajectories of shooting stars, satellites and aircraft. I use Raspberry Pi computers housed in the same enclosures as the cameras to do real-time analysis on the images. Each camera is highly autonomous, running astrometry.net to precisely determine the sky area the camera is pointing at, and using a GPS receiver to determine the camera's location.

    This project ran from 2014–2016 in collaboration with Cambridge Science Centre under its former name of MeteorPi. In March 2020, the project started observing again under its new name of Pi Gazing. The code is all freely available on GitHub.

  • Dominic's photos – When I'm not doing other things, I dabble in amateur photography, and you can find some of my photos here.
Older projects
  • The Observer's Guide to Planetary Motion – My book, which describes much of the science behind how In-The-Sky.org does its calculations.
  • Pyxplot – A graphing and vector graphics package which I wrote in 2008–2012.
  • GrepNova – An automated image-comparison tool which I wrote in 2005 for amateur astronomers who hunt for supernova. This tool was used by Tom Boles, who currently holds the world record for the largest number of supernovae discovered by any single individual.
  • Naked Astronomy – Between 2012 and 2014 I worked for the Naked Scientists in Cambridge, where I produced the monthly STFC-funded podcast Naked Astronomy. I also spent one day a week in the newsroom of BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, acting as a science advisor.
  • Square Kilometre Array – Between 2007 and 2012, I worked at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, on feasibility studies for the use of Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) to build a correlator for the SKA.
  • PhD Thesis – I was awarded my PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2008, where my supervisor was Prof Paul Alexander. I built a model of the infrared spectra of dusty star-forming galaxies, which were being observed in large numbers at that time by Spitzer.
Ancient projects

In the 1990s I was the kind of geeky teenager who sat in my bedroom writing computer games for my Acorn Electron. I even got a couple of them published. Though the reviewers spotted, quite correctly, that I wasn't very good at making up story lines.

  • Shipwrecked – Published here (1996) and reviewed in detail here. In the unlikely event you want to try and complete it, you may find this solution useful. It even got ported to the Commodore 64 and some YouTubers have recently made some videos about it (!!).
  • Jupiter III – The sequel to Shipwrecked, published here (1996) and reviewed in detail here. This was my first attempt at high-speed scrolling graphics. In the unlikely event you want to try and complete it, you may find this solution useful.

Contact details

You can email me at root@127.0.0.1.