Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website,

Friday 21 September 2012

The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in ourselves but in our software

That's right, it's time for another post about FRELLED, my very own FITS viewer. Well, I have been tinkering with it on and off for about a year. I spent a large fraction of the summer ignoring... avoiding.... I mean, encouraging my students to work independently to finish coding it. Was it worth it ?


Never mind the fact that looking at data in three dimensions is pretty (we'll get to that in a minute). Or that I strongly believe in doing thinks on the basis that they are cool, regardless of whether they suffer from such petty attributes as usefulness. Nope. in this case it was worth it for hugely simple pragmatic reasons. Namely that instead of spending a full month searching a data cube, I can now do it in a day.

Just to emphasise - that's a full working month, every day, doing virtually nothing else besides staring at images of static hoping that they might contain galaxies. That's actually not so bad. The problems start when you find something, because then you have to carefully record the coordinates and type lots of different parameters into another program to measure it. Not any more. Now you can just point to the source, click on it, and FRELLED will generate all the parameters for you. It also masks the source at the same time, so there'll be no more wondering whether you already detected something or not.

Typing in the parameters for one galaxy isn't all that bad. Typing them in for 400 is massively tedious, and with that many objects it would normally be impossible to guarantee that you don't miss any, or record some twice. Not any more ! It's not every day that you get a factor x30 speed increase with no loss of accuracy, so you'll have to forgive my repeated excited posts about this.

I've previously posted a few short clips trying to show how lovely HI data is, using more primitive versions of FRELLED. Now that it's more sophisticated, making nice videos of data is much easier. So I've decided to enter this year's National Science Foundation Science And Engineering Visualisation Challenge. Wish me luck !

Here's my entry. It's a 5min video all about hydrogen. Hopefully it stands on its own. I would have preferred to call it "Pimp My Hydrogen" but I suspect that wouldn't go down so well with the NSF types. If this doesn't convince you that hydrogen is pretty, then I may as well give up and go home, 'cos I got nothin'.

In other news, my second paper as first author has been accepted for publication. That finishes off my thesis research, which I first started in 2006 - a terrifyingly distant era. At last I can bid farewell to the Virgo Cluster and move on to shiny new data set. This time I won't have to spend weeks cataloguing the galaxies, only have to do the whole thing again months later because more data becomes available. Hurrah !

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