Amateur astronomers wanting to observe celestial bodies soon won't be limited to just their own personal telescopes, or visits to the local public observatory. Starting next year, the first in a worldwide network of robotic telescopes will be going online, which users from any location on the planet will be able to operate for free via the internet. Known as Gloria (GLObal Robotic telescopes Intelligent Array for e-Science), the three-year European project will ultimately include 17 telescopes on four continents, run by 13 partner groups from Russia, Chile, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland and Spain. Not only will users be able to control the telescopes from their computers, but they will also have access to the astronomical databases of Gloria and other organizations.

The telescope at Spain's Montegancedo Observatory is serving as the model for Gloria. Located at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid's Facultad de Informática, it can already be remotely operated through the internet, using the university's Ciclope Astro software. This same software will be used by all the Gloria telescopes, to ensure uniformity across the system.

The amount of time that individual users get on the telescopes will be based on their "Karma," determined by how popular their work is with their fellow users. It will reportedly be somewhat like YouTube, where users vote on each other's video posts.

While the EUR2.5 million (US$3.4 million) project is intended to help armchair astronomers of all types explore the Universe for themselves, it will also be used for crowd-sourced research. The University of Oxford in particular will be using Gloria for its Galaxy Zoo project, in which users are recruited to help classify approximately a million galaxies. Astronomical events will also be broadcast on the system, to help promote Gloria and built its user community.

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