What is Astro-WISE?

Astro-WISE stands for Astronomical Wide-field Imaging System for Europe. Astro-WISE is an environment consisting of hardware and software which is federated over about a dozen institutes all over Europe. It has been developed to scientifically exploit the ever increasing avalanche of data produced by science experiments. We call such an environment an information system. As the name suggests, Astro-WISE started out as a system geared towards astronomy, but is now also being used for projects outside astronomy. Astro-WISE is an all-in-one system: it allows a scientist to archive raw data, calibrate data, perform post-calibration scientific analysis and archive all results in one environment. The system architecture links together all these commonly discrete steps in data analysis. The complete linking of all steps in data analysis, including the input, output, and the software code used, for arbitrary data volumes has only been feasible thanks to a novel paradigm devised by the creators of Astro-WISE. The Astro-WISE information system started out being used for data from one particular astronomical optical wide field imager: OmegaCAM. This was achieved by inserting the algorithms needed to exploit OmegaCAM data in Astro-WISE. After this, these software encoded algorithms were expanded to include arbitrary optical wide field imagers. These two projects have been completed.

Salient features of the Astro-WISE information system:

  • no local installation needed to use it
  • can be installed everywhere with off-the-shelf hardware
  • fully scalable
  • can work with data of any imager: currently supported data sources
  • share results with your collaborators globally automatically
  • tuneable user privileges for non-public data
  • provides a web-based archive (called DB Viewer) to view an arbitrary subset of data of an abitrary project at each stage of the processing (e.g., final catalogs, calibrated images of an imaging survey using multiple instruments, raw science data, raw calibration data)
  • provides web-tools to process arbitrary amounts of data
  • provides a command-line prompt with the same capabilities
  • based on the python programming language: web interface to code
  • easy to add your own analysis code in python
  • wrapping of code written in fortran, C, etc. is straight-forward
  • access to computing power via computer clusters (compute-grid infrastructure is part of the system)
Similarly, algorithms can be encoded to process datasets from other wavelength regimes. As a start: In addition, the Astro-WISE system can be used more generically and can facilitate the analysis of large sets of catalogued data. For example: The first example of the Astro-WISE information system being used outside astronomy:
  • The KdK@Astro-WISE project analyzes images of handwritten texts from the archive of the Kabinet van de[n] Koning[in] using Astro-WISE. The administrative archive is handwritten by a limited number of office clerks over more than two centuries.

In short, Astro-WISE is an information system for the new era of e-Science: it provides an environment in which large datasets coming from science experiments in general can be scientifically exploited.

Further reading

  • A technical summary of Astro-WISE, relevant for e-Science, in 300 words.
  • A more elaborate technical description of Astro-WISE, relevant for e-Science, in this article.
  • ADASS 2006 paper (pdf)
  • For astronomers the HOW-TOs are a good starting point to explore the system.