Haleakala’s Pan-STARRS offers lots more space data

‘World’s largest digital sky survey’ available for public and astronomers

This is a composite of sky photographs taken by Pan-STARRS and its 1.8-meter telescope atop Haleakala. UH Institute for Astronomy photo

The Maui News

More Pan-STARRS digital scans of the skies above Haleakala — part of the world’s largest digital sky survey — have been released and offer “astronomical treasures” to mine, an astronomer involved in the project said.

The 1.6 petabytes of data, the second data release in the survey, is the world’s largest volume of astronomical information ever released, the news release from the UH Institute for Astronomy, which operates Pan-STARRS, and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore announced Monday.

A petabyte is 1 million gigabytes. The imaging data in the release is equivalent to 2 billion selfies, 30,000 times the total text content of Wikipedia and 15 times the volume of the Library of Congress, the joint news release said.

Heather Flewelling, UH Institute for Astronomy researcher and key designer of the database, said the survey offers “a vast quantity of astronomical data with many great discoveries already unveiled.”

“These discoveries just barely scratch the surface of what is possible,” she said. “The astronomy community will now be able to dig deep, mine the data and find the astronomical treasures that we have not even begun to imagine.”

“We put the universe in a box and everyone can take a peek,” said database engineer Conrad Holmberg.

There has never been a data set with this much coverage of the sky with so many measurements in different color bands, a UH official said.

Pan-STARRS collected the images and the Space Telescope Science Institute is hosting the storage hardware, the computers that handle the database queries, and the user-friendly interfaces to access the data, the news release said.

This is the second release of digital sky data by Pan-STARRS with its 1.8-meter telescope equipped with a 1.4 billion pixel digital camera. Conceived and developed by the Institute for Astronomy, the digital survey of the sky in visible and near-infrared light began in May 2010. Pan-STARRS was the first survey to observe the entire sky visible from Hawaii multiple times in many colors of light, the news release said.

One of the survey’s goals was to identify moving, transient and variable objects, including asteroids that could potentially threaten the Earth. The survey took approximately four years to complete, scanning the sky 12 times in five filters, the news release said.

The four years of data comprise 3 billion separate sources, including stars, galaxies and other objects. This research program was undertaken by the PS1 Science Consortium — a collaboration among 10 research institutions in four countries, with support from NASA and the National Science Foundation, the news release said.

Consortium observations for the sky survey were completed in April 2014. The initial Pan-STARRS public data release occurred in December 2016, but included only the combined data and not the individual exposures at each period of time.

This second data release provides, for the first time, access to all of the individual exposures at each period of time. This will allow astronomers and public users of the archive to search the full survey for high-energy explosive events in the cosmos, discover moving objects in the solar system and explore the time domain of the universe, the news release said.

“The Pan-STARRS surveys allow anyone access to millions of images and catalogs containing precision measurements of billions of stars, galaxies and moving objects,” said Ken Chambers, director of the Pan-STARRS observatories. “While searching for near-Earth objects, Pan-STARRS has made many discoveries, from ‘Oumuamua passing through our solar system, to lonely planets between the stars; it has mapped the dust in three dimensions in our galaxy and found new streams of stars; and it has found new kinds of exploding stars and distant quasars in the early universe.

“We hope people will discover all kinds of things we missed in this incredibly large and rich data set.”

The survey data resides in the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes, which serves as NASA’s repository for all of its optical and ultraviolet-light observations, some of which date to the early 1970s. It includes all of the observational data from such space missions as Hubble and Kepler, and a wide variety of other telescopes, as well as several all-sky surveys.

The data can be accessed at panstarrs.stsci.edu.

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