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1.) It's possible to define stacks on ANY category equipped with a Grothendieck topology (such a category with a topology is called a site). In particular, this holds true for the Zariski site. Moreover, there is always a way to define an "Artin stack"- these are those stacks which arise as torsors for a groupoid object in your site. Outside of algebraic geometry, these give rise to notions of topological and differentiable stacks, for instance.

EDIT: As long as groupoid objects exist in your category.

2.) As in Harry's post, any stack which is a stack in a site which is finer than the Zariski topology is also a stack in the Zariski topology.

To address your general question as to "why a new notion of open cover is necessary if all I am interested in is remembering stabilizers", you should learn a bit about Grothendieck topologies. I'll make a couple remarks:

i) If all you cared about were stabilizers, then you wouldn't need to use any covers at all; ordinary fibered categories would do the trick!

Indeed, take a group object in your site acting an object, and take the action groupoid- it is a groupoid object. Look at the pseudo-functor which assigns each object of your site the groupoid of maps into this groupoid object (considering the object as a groupoid with all identity arrows). This remembers the stabilizers for this action.

ii) (subcanonical) Grothendieck topologies are a choice of a type of cover for your objects, in such a way that this object is the colimit of these covers, AND "this is important to remember". This is a little imprecise, so, allow me to elaborate via an example from topology:

Let $U_i$, $i\in I$ be an open cover of a space X. Then, continuous maps from X to another space Y are in bijection with with continuous maps $f_i:U_i \to Y$ which agree on their intersection. This is just saying that X is the colimit of this open cover. Instead, we can view this a property of the presheaf $Hom(blank,Y)$ represented by $Y$ on the category of topological spaces (for you set theorists, choose a Grothendieck universe).

For any $X$ and any open cover $U_i$, $i\in I$ of $X$, (let $Hom(blank,Y)=F$)

the natural map $F(X) \to \varprojlim \left[{\prod{F(U_i)}} \rightrightarrows {\prod{F(U_{ij})}}\right]$

is a bijection.

If $F$ is any presheaf, this is just saying $F$ is a sheaf. Since this is NOT true for an ARBITRARY presheaf $F$, X is no longer the colimit of its open covers in the full category of all presheaves. The same argument holds for all fibred categories- it's only true if we restrict to STACKS (and $X$ then becomes the weak colimit of this cover, but, never mind).

The reason you add the condition for descent for covers, is so that "all maps into your stack from a space are continuous". More precisely, and more generally, it's so that maps from a space, scheme, whatever you site is, into a stack can be determined by mapping out of elements of some covering of your object in a way that glues (for stacks, rather than sheaves, they don't need to AGREE on the intersection, but, agree up to an invertible 2-cell, plus some coherency conditions).

Combining these ideas, if you have a group acting on an object, the pseudo-functor produced by the action groupoid is rarely a stack with respect to your topology, but you can stackify it, and then it will become one and still remember all the stabilizers. I hope this helps!

1

1.) It's possible to define stacks on ANY category equipped with a Grothendieck topology (such a category with a topology is called a site). In particular, this holds true for the Zariski site. Moreover, there is always a way to define an "Artin stack"- these are those stacks which arise as torsors for a groupoid object in your site. Outside of algebraic geometry, these give rise to notions of topological and differentiable stacks, for instance.

2.) As in Harry's post, any stack which is a stack in a site which is finer than the Zariski topology is also a stack in the Zariski topology.

To address your general question as to "why a new notion of open cover is necessary if all I am interested in is remembering stabilizers", you should learn a bit about Grothendieck topologies. I'll make a couple remarks:

i) If all you cared about were stabilizers, then you wouldn't need to use any covers at all; ordinary fibered categories would do the trick!

Indeed, take a group object in your site acting an object, and take the action groupoid- it is a groupoid object. Look at the pseudo-functor which assigns each object of your site the groupoid of maps into this groupoid object (considering the object as a groupoid with all identity arrows). This remembers the stabilizers for this action.

ii) (subcanonical) Grothendieck topologies are a choice of a type of cover for your objects, in such a way that this object is the colimit of these covers, AND "this is important to remember". This is a little imprecise, so, allow me to elaborate via an example from topology:

Let $U_i$, $i\in I$ be an open cover of a space X. Then, continuous maps from X to another space Y are in bijection with with continuous maps $f_i:U_i \to Y$ which agree on their intersection. This is just saying that X is the colimit of this open cover. Instead, we can view this a property of the presheaf $Hom(blank,Y)$ represented by $Y$ on the category of topological spaces (for you set theorists, choose a Grothendieck universe).

For any $X$ and any open cover $U_i$, $i\in I$ of $X$, (let $Hom(blank,Y)=F$)

the natural map $F(X) \to \varprojlim \left[{\prod{F(U_i)}} \rightrightarrows {\prod{F(U_{ij})}}\right]$

is a bijection.

If $F$ is any presheaf, this is just saying $F$ is a sheaf. Since this is NOT true for an ARBITRARY presheaf $F$, X is no longer the colimit of its open covers in the full category of all presheaves. The same argument holds for all fibred categories- it's only true if we restrict to STACKS (and $X$ then becomes the weak colimit of this cover, but, never mind).

The reason you add the condition for descent for covers, is so that "all maps into your stack from a space are continuous". More precisely, and more generally, it's so that maps from a space, scheme, whatever you site is, into a stack can be determined by mapping out of elements of some covering of your object in a way that glues (for stacks, rather than sheaves, they don't need to AGREE on the intersection, but, agree up to an invertible 2-cell, plus some coherency conditions).

Combining these ideas, if you have a group acting on an object, the pseudo-functor produced by the action groupoid is rarely a stack with respect to your topology, but you can stackify it, and then it will become one and still remember all the stabilizers. I hope this helps!