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Lopsided spiral galaxy NGC 2276

All Together Now

Staff who support our archive rolled out data from, and software for, the astronomical community.

How do you accelerate the potential for scientific discovery? Make it significantly easier for all researchers to access and analyze telescope data! A great example of this is the new Timeseries Integrated Knowledge Engine (TIKE) science platform created and released by the institute’s Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). TIKE allows astronomers to flip how they typically work. Instead of downloading data from the archives onto a personal computer to run their code, researchers can now upload their code to analyze the online data—or write their own code leveraging dozens of community software packages already installed and maintained by MAST.

TIKE offers both beginners and experts the ability to efficiently explore MAST datasets hosted in the cloud, and all are supported by introductory documentation and tutorials. Some of the first data available on the platform are from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the Kepler/K2 spacecraft, but more will be added. Users will also be encouraged to exchange and share their knowledge on TIKE as new versions are released, making it a highly collaborative platform.

Focusing on Accessibility and Improvements

Simulated Webb telescope data shown in several graphs
This image shows a visualization of simulated Webb data using the Cubeviz tool within the Jdaviz software released this year.  It shows a data cube that consists of brightness images of the object, and also spreads out the light of the object by its energy, known as a spectrum. The top row shows three image slices of the object brightness (top left), the brightness error (top middle), and the cube data quality (top right).  Along the bottom is a 1D spectrum of the object.  Learn more about this suite of tools.

This year, the members of the archives team also turned their attention to Hubble’s data, replacing a longstanding search form with one designed for ease-of-use and accessibility. The new form was specifically built to work with screen readers, includes alternative text for every label and button, and has a refined visual design to increase readability. It also includes a slew of new features: Users may search multiple targets at once, sort and customize search results, and download results straight from the form.

Next up? Applying every bell and whistle to an “ecosystem” of tools that supports analysis of data from the James Webb Space Telescope, known as Jdaviz. The tools visualize Webb’s data—and look and feel the same regardless of where users find themselves, whether they are working within Jupyter notebooks, as standalone desktop applications, or as embedded windows within a website. There’s no need to wait to get started. Jdaviz tools currently use simulated Webb data, but also visualize data from other observatories, so researchers can try them out while waiting for Webb to begin its science operations.

The worldwide community of astronomical researchers also plays a significant role in the products our staff ingests into the archive. For example, MAST continued to make TESS data far more accessible, ingesting and releasing more than 35 million files that were carefully processed by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and NASA’s Ames Research Center. Now users can search millions of stars and immediately pull a light curve, a graph that shows the brightness of an object over a period of time. Within these easy-to-search data, researchers can see if there are any dips in the light that might be a telltale sign of an orbiting planet, fast bursts of light from exploding stars, or emissions from black holes.

A Proposal for the Future

A white stream of light runs through a blue pyramid at top left, and is split into a rainbow at left.
Scientific productivity is driven by equal awareness of archives that host telescope data along with the tools and tutorials that support research, argued the authors of a white paper submitted to the 2020 decadal survey on astronomy and astrophysics. Read the paper.

Researchers have long recognized that telescopes’ archival data combined are more valuable than their latest snapshots alone. Plus, data archives are accessible to anyone anywhere in the world—and free. To sharpen the focus on this point, several staff at STScI contributed to a white paper that was cited by the decadal survey on astronomy and astrophysics, “Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s,” in November. The authors showed that researchers who relied only on archival data are more often located in countries with lower overall resources or small universities with less access to resources. Archives, they argued, support equitable access to scientific discovery by making it easier for anyone in the world to do science. By funding and investing in data archives, the astronomical community will continue to ensure that researchers everywhere are well served no matter where they live or work.

Accessibility of all kinds will remain at the forefront of our archive’s initiatives, along with the astronomical research community they support. More and more of the data products MAST releases are contributed by teams from around the world, helping to make our archive a gathering place for the community.