Champaign, IL. — About 600 observational astronomers around the world received a new release of the AIPS++ radio astronomy software in June in the largest distribution of the Astronomical Information Processing System to date. AIPS++ is a set of tools for calibrating, editing, enhancing, and analyzing astronomical images and data, created by an international consortium that includes National Computational Science Alliance (Alliance) researchers.
Most of the tools and applications that astronomers are looking for are available in AIPS++, according to developers. Whether researchers are visualizing a dataset, determining the precise location in the sky of a given pixel of an astronomical image, combining data from different telescopes, calibrating experimental data, or translating data to different standard coordinate systems, the tools in AIPS++ can help. The tools also work on a variety of platforms. For example, researchers can tinker with a single image on their desktop systems. Or, as New Mexico Tech Professor David Westpfal recently did, they can use an SGI Origin2000 supercomputer to compare 128 maps of the same galaxy at slightly different velocities to understand how bodies within that galaxy move and how materials within it are distributed.
“But this is not just a monolithic software package,” says Richard Crutcher, chair of the astronomy department at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, an Alliance researcher, and a member of the AIPS++ consortium.
Most of the software tools are written in C++, but a scripting language called Glish increases the functionality of the tools. Using Glish, researchers can create plug-ins for existing tools and customize some of the tools’ graphical user interfaces. Researchers can also write scripts that link tools together and create second-tier applications. “We’re strongly leveraging software development all over the world,” Crutcher says.
The AIPS++ team is made up of researchers from the U of I’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), the Australian Telescope National Facility in Sydney, the Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy in Dwingeloo, Netherlands, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which manages telescopes in Green Bank, WV, Tucson, AZ, and Socorro, NM. People working at such widely distributed facilities, naturally, have a penchant for looking at ways to bridge the distance, as with the “automated processing pipeline” that they began work on a few months ago.
This pipeline, along with the parallelization of the code, is currently one of the most significant undertakings that the team is making to improve AIPS++. The pipeline allows researchers to complete first order processing of telescope data in near-real time, effectively linking data collection tools (the telescopes) and data processing tools (the computers). The system will be nearly automatic and yields a rough image that can be used to fine-tune the researchers’ observations as they are being made.
For further information on AIPS++, see http://aips2.nrao.edu .
The National Computational Science Alliance is a partnership to prototype an advanced computational infrastructure for the 21st century and includes more than 50 academic, government and industry research partners from across the United States. The Alliance is one of two partnerships funded by the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) program, and receives cost-sharing at partner institutions. NSF also supports the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (NPACI), led by the San Diego Supercomputer Center.
The National Center for Supercomputing Applications is the leading-edge site for the National Computational Science Alliance. NCSA is a leader in the development and deployment of cutting-edge high-performance computing, networking, and information technologies. The National Science Foundation, the state of Illinois, the University of Illinois, industrial partners, and other federal agencies fund NCSA.