'Astroinformatics' helps astronomers exploring the sky

Oct 28, 2013

The new HITS research group "Astroinformatics" will develop methods and software for astronomers and help facilitating the analysis and processing of the rapidly growing amount of data in astronomy. The junior group led by Kai Polsterer will work closely with other astronomical research groups in Heidelberg.

The new junior research group "Astroinformatics" has recently commenced its activities at the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS). It will develop new approaches for analyzing and processing the continuously growing amount of data in astronomy, which is stored in various archives. Physicist and computer scientist Dr. Kai Polsterer leads the group. With this, HITS comprises a total of nine research groups.

"We focus on using new approaches to support observing scientists with their research," says Kai Polsterer. The newly established junior group complements the activities of the research group "Theoretical Astrophysics", led by Prof. Volker Springel,. which deals with computer simulations for galaxy formation and the role of dark matter. In the spring of 2014, yet another research group will be established and further strengthen the studies of Astrophysics at HITS. The focus of this research group will be on high-energy astrophysics.

In the past twenty years, computers have revolutionized astronomy. Due to new detectors and innovative telescopes, today's can observe objects in unprecedented extend and with high resolution. Adding to this, there are new, untapped wavelength-regimes. Special "Survey Telescopes" map the sky and constantly collect data. Kai Polsterer wants to improve astronomers' access to data that is available in archives in such a way as to promote a more intuitive research. As an example, he mentions the "Sloan Digital Sky Survey" which maps the sky with images in five wavelengths and detailed spectroscopy, and makes them digitally available. "There are many treasure chests full of data to be unearthed, but it is not easy for astronomers to actually browse the data, i.e. to do exploratory work," the 37-year-old says. In a first step, he wants to develop tools that automatically extract object features from the data at hand, such as the so-called redshift. The redshift indicates how far away a galaxy is from us. A significant metrological effort is required in order to directly measure this distance. Therefore, the model-based, statistical values are very important for astronomers.

"The amount of increases exponentially. The number of astronomers does not," says Kai Polsterer. Methods of computer science can be of great help in dealing with this situation. For that reason, the new HITS group is working to increase the popularity of machine learning approaches in . Kai Polsterer is an expert in both areas: After having received his diploma in Computer Science from the Technical University of Dortmund, he earned his doctorate in Physics and Astronomy at the University of Bochum. Later on, he was head of software development in the project "Lucifer" at Bochum University. The Heidelberg State Observatory (Landessternwarte Heidelberg, LSW) and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) are involved in this project as well. "Lucifer" is a combination of camera and spectrograph at the world's largest optical telescope, the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona. This instrument was built for studies in the near-infrared spectral range, which is invisible to the eye. Kai Polsterer will continue to work closely with the two Heidelberg facilities LSW and MPIA, as well as with the "German Astrophysical Virtual Observatory" led by Prof. Joachim Wambsganss (Heidelberg University).

Explore further: Is the universe finite or infinite?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A 'cosmic weather balloon' at the center of the Milky Way

Sep 30, 2013

The radiation field at the centre of the Milky Way must be 1,000 times stronger than in the area surrounding our sun. Astrophysicists of the "Milky Way Galaxy" Collaborative Research Centre of Heidelberg University used computer ...

Research maps where stars are born

Oct 14, 2013

(Phys.org) —A University of Arizona-led group of astronomers has completed the largest-ever survey of dense gas clouds in the Milky Way – pockets shrouded in gas and dust where new stars are being born.

Recommended for you

Is the universe finite or infinite?

Mar 27, 2015

Two possiblities exist: either the Universe is finite and has a size, or it's infinite and goes on forever. Both possibilities have mind-bending implications.

'Teapot' nova begins to wane

Mar 27, 2015

A star, or nova, has appeared in the constellation of Sagittarius and, even though it is now waning, it is still bright enough to be visible in the sky over Perth through binoculars or a telescope.

Dark matter is darker than once thought

Mar 27, 2015

This panel of images represents a study of 72 colliding galaxy clusters conducted by a team of astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope. The research sets new limits on ...

Galaxy clusters collide—dark matter still a mystery

Mar 26, 2015

When galaxy clusters collide, their dark matters pass through each other, with very little interaction. Deepening the mystery, a study by scientists at EPFL and the University of Edinburgh challenges the ...

Using 19th century technology to time travel to the stars

Mar 26, 2015

In the late 19th century, astronomers developed the technique of capturing telescopic images of stars and galaxies on glass photographic plates. This allowed them to study the night sky in detail. Over 500,000 ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.