What's Up UA? - How to Find the Rarest of the Rare in Southern Skies - The Explorer: University Of Arizona

What's Up UA? - How to Find the Rarest of the Rare in Southern Skies

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Friday, January 3, 2014 2:44 pm

University of Arizona computer scientists are teaming up with astronomers at the National Optical Astronomical Observatory to develop a computer program that will sort through the millions of objects detected by the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and create a list of priorities for astronomers to investigate. The project has recently received a three-year INSPIRE grant, worth more than $700,000, from the National Science Foundation.

"The University of Arizona and NOAO were among the original founding members of the LSST project, making our collaboration to help ensure its success especially appropriate," said Tom Matheson, an associate astronomer at the Tucson-based NOAO.

High in the Andean peaks of Chile, work is underway to build a telescope that will photograph the entire Southern Hemisphere of the sky every three nights for 10 years. The LSST will create a map of the sky unlike any other, showing changes in astronomical objects almost as they happen over the 10-year period, and opening a floodgate for new astronomical discoveries and research worldwide as new objects are detected each night.

Photographing a portion of the southern sky every 37 seconds each night, the LSST will compile a database of approximately a thousand images per night. "We can take the picture from one night and subtract it from the picture from three nights before. Everything that has changed will show up in the image, so we can study how the sky varies," Matheson said.

"What we’ll get is essentially a movie of the entire southern sky. At the end of the 10 years we can add up all the images and get a really deep picture of objects over the entire southern sky. It’s a really fantastic science resource for astronomy," he added.

"It’s also a huge amount of data," Matheson said. "In any one of those frames there will be about 10,000 things that change, so that’s 10 million objects per night that have changed and we’re going to have to figure out what of those is astronomically interesting."

While other astronomy projects are underway around the world to conduct similar surveys, none has ever attempted to map the sky on a scale such as this. 

The problem: How to compare between 1 million and 10 million astronomical objects spotted each night by the LSST to the catalog of known objects, prioritize them based upon different factors, and generate a list of most important objects upon which astronomers around the world may train their telescopes. 

The team: Matheson, UA associate professor of computer scienceand member of the UA BIO5 Institute, John Kececioglu, UA professor of computer science, Rick Snodgrass, UA professor of computer science, and NOAO astronomer Abhijit Saha.

"The problem is that the observing resources on the planet are limited compared to the data we will generate, so we can only follow a few of those objects to get more information about them," Matheson said. "The hard part is taking that million or 10 million, eliminating everything that is not necessarily urgent to look at and finding those 10 to 100 objects that we want to study."

How do astronomers decide which objects are most important to observe? "There are many ways of assessing what’s important," Matheson explained. "There are things that we know exist but are really rare and interesting, such as a super-luminous supernova, collapsing to become a black hole. That’s a rare event and things that happen there are great examples of extreme physics that are just impossible to reproduce here on Earth, so that’s something we would want to observe."

"Another criterion for importance is that the object be unlike anything that's been seen before," Kececioglu added. "That's a high priority alert."

"Each alert has many features that are determined by the telescope, such as brightness of the object, different color bands, or the shape and intensity of the light," Kececioglu explained. "We’re going to compare these features to a database of objects and their features, and there are techniques for how to organize the data so that you can do that really fast."

"It’s a huge data reduction from 1 to 10 million down to 10 or 100," Kececioglu said, "and there’s a 37-second time window over which that filtering process has to take place."

"If we don’t keep up with that, we’ll get behind," Matheson said. "It’s a classic big data computer science problem."

The answer: The UA team is developing software that will have the computing power to compare the 1 million to 10 million alerts generated by the LSST images to the criteria astronomers put down for the most astronomically interesting objects in under 37 seconds and generate a list of top-priority observing objects for astronomers around the world. 

The project and the software is called ANTARES, which stands for the Arizona NOAO Temporal Analysis and Response to Events System. 

The system will have a brokering capability in addition, Kececioglu said, so that astronomers can subscribe to a type of object alert from the LSST that flags objects they are interested in studying.

"The eventual goal is to have something where anybody can put in their own filter," Matheson said. "Our goal at NOAO is to help all astronomers in the United States, as well as those on international teams. This is a tool for the astronomy community."

"The program has broader applications than just astronomy," Matheson added.

The researchers envision the software developed for the ANTARES project being used for non-astronomical data sorting problems in the future, such as credit card alerts, national security alerts, or illness anomalies that could alert the world to signs of the next major disease outbreak.

"It’s very exciting to work on such an impactful problem," Kececioglu said.

The LSST itself will be built atop Chile’s Cerro Pachón, a site known for dark skies and clear atmosphere. The mirror for the telescope is currently being polished in the UA’s Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, located beneath the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility.

The collaboration between the UA computer scientists and NOAO will enable astronomers around the world to get the most out of the data generated when the LSST becomes operational upon the distant mountaintop in Chile.

"The Chilean site is a fantastic observing location," Matheson said. "The southern sky contains the Large Magellanic Cloud, which provides kind of an interesting sample of astronomical objects, the foothills of the Andes have excellent astronomical observing conditions, and it never – well, it hardly ever – rains," he added. "It only rains when I’m there."

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

More about

Welcome to the discussion.

MOS: Monsoon Season

We asked the community about the Monsoon Season.

Wednesday 06/11/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Undergrads Conducting Microgravity Research Aboard NASA's G-Force One

Monday 06/09/2014

What's up UA? - UA to Host U.S. and Mexico Officials Exploring Collaborations in Education, Innovation, Research

Thursday 06/05/2014

What's Up UA? - New Wilderness Medicine Class Hones Patient Care Skills in Rugged Conditions

Tuesday 06/03/2014

Track Cats Send Eight Athletes to TrackTown USA

Monday 06/02/2014

What's Up UA? - Bringing a Spacecraft Back From the Dead

Friday 05/30/2014

What's Up UA? - Heart Attack Patient Defies Odds with Tailored Surgical Treatment at UA Medical Center

Thursday 05/29/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Marketing Students Win National AT&T Competition

Tuesday 05/27/2014

What's Up UA? - Scientists Discover Genetic Basis of Pest Resistance to Biotech Cotton

Friday 05/23/2014

What's up UA? - Four UA Students Picked for Pat Tillman Foundation Scholarships

Wednesday 05/21/2014

What's Up UA? - Scientists Discover Genetic Basis of Pest Resistance to Biotech Cotton

Monday 05/19/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Tunnels Get Carbon Fiber Makeover

Thursday 05/15/2014

What's Up UA? - Earning a UA Degree, in a Grandfather’s Memory

Tuesday 05/13/2014

What's Up UA? - UA's Phoenix Cancer Center is 'Topped Off,' Joins Award-Winning Medical School Building

Thursday 05/08/2014

What's Up UA? - University of Arizona to Offer Nation’s First Bachelor of Arts in Law

Monday 05/05/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Combating Health Disparities to Build Healthier Communities

Wednesday 04/30/2014

What's Up UA? - Scientists at the UA Make Critical End-Stage Liver Disease Discovery

Friday 04/25/2014

What's Up UA? - A Century-Long Track Record of Serving Arizona and Benefiting the State's Economy

Wednesday 04/23/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Opens Nation’s First Resource Center for Student Vets Studying Health Care UA Wildcat Instant Decision Days at PCC campuses April 29-May 2

Monday 04/21/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Scientists to Begin Construction on NASA Spacecraft that will Visit Asteroid in 2018

Thursday 04/10/2014

What's Up UA? - Spring Fling Celebrates 40th Anniversary With Return to UA Mall

Monday 04/07/2014

Mauga’s Walkoff Sweeps Stanford

Thursday 04/03/2014

What's Up UA? - 4-H Programs Bring Enrichment and Learning to Thousands in Arizona

Monday 03/31/2014

What's Up UA? - The Viruses You Don't Know About (Yet)

Tuesday 03/25/2014

What's Up UA? - Twice Torn Apart: A UA Alumna's Road to the Paralympic Games

Tuesday 03/18/2014

What's Up UA? - Tucson Village Farm Honored as Model Program for the Nation

Friday 03/14/2014

What's Up UA? - Several UA Graduate Programs Reach New Heights

Tuesday 03/11/2014

What's Up UA? - Olympics Interns Share Sochi Experiences

Friday 03/07/2014

What's Up UA? - Seeing Cancer Differently

Wednesday 03/05/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Offers Accelerated Bachelor's to Master’s Program in Environmental Health Sciences

Tuesday 03/04/2014

What's Up UA? - Third-Ranked Men's Basketball Heads to Corvallis to Face OSU

Friday 02/28/2014

What's Up UA? - UA College of Optical Sciences to Celebrate 50th Anniversary With Laser Fun Day

Thursday 02/27/2014

What's Up UA? - Obesity-Related Gut Bacteria Higher in People in Northern Climes

Monday 02/24/2014

Wildcats Sweep Sunday Doubleheader, Series From Alcorn State

Thursday 02/20/2014

What's Up UA? - First-Year UA Minority Student Retention Rate Highest Ever

Monday 02/17/2014

What's Up UA? - The Flu and You

Friday 02/14/2014

What's Up UA? - Miller to Add to Arizona’s USA Basketball Legacy

Wednesday 02/12/2014

What's Up UA? - $10M Gift to Optical Sciences is Largest Gift for Scholarships in UA History

Monday 02/10/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Study Shows Aggressive Management of Gunshot Wounds to Brain Significantly Increases Survival

Thursday 02/06/2014

Arizona Football Announces 2014 NLI Class

Tuesday 02/04/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Wind Quintet is Finalist in National Competition

Thursday 01/30/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Undergraduate Researcher Earns Prestigious National Award

Tuesday 01/28/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Renewed as a Tillman Foundation Partner

Thursday 01/23/2014

What's Up UA? - Thousands to Celebrate Chinese New Year at UA

Tuesday 01/21/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Mathematician Earns Presidential Early Career Award

Friday 01/17/2014

What's Up UA? - Prefer dry heat to arctic chill? Genetics might be the reason

Thursday 01/16/2014

Four Players Added to January Enrollee Group

Wednesday 01/15/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Study Shows Intensive Exercise Training Program for Dementia Patients Improves Care in Clinical Setting

Monday 01/13/2014

What's Up UA? - UA-Developed Avatar is Helping to Screen New Arrivals at Bucharest Airport

Friday 01/10/2014

What's Up UA? - The First and the Best in More Than Basketball
Spacer4px

Follow us on Facebook

Online poll