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Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems VIII
ASP Conference Series, Vol. 172, 1999
Editors: D. M. Mehringer, R. L. Plante, & D. A. Roberts


This volume contains papers presented at the eighth annual conference for Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems, also known as ADASS98. It was held November 1-4, 1998 on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and hosted jointly by the UIUC Astronomy Department and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). There were 219 registered participants, including 72 people representing 15 countries outside the United States and Canada.

Conference Overview

Sunday afternoon featured three concurrent tutorials. NCSA's Beth Richardson presented a workshop on parallel computing which provided participants with strategies for cache tuning, data distribution, parallel debugging, and profiling. NCSA staff also presented a two-part tutorial entitled ``Topics in Java Application Development.'' In the first part, Ed Grossman and Terry McLaren described how to create collaborative applications using a Java package called NCSA Habanero; in the second part, Steve Pietrowitz gave an introduction to 3D visualization via the Java 3D API. A third tutorial was presented by Jean-Luc Stark (CEA Saclay) and Fionn Murtagh (University of Ulster) entitled ``Multiscale Image and Data Analysis: Theory, Applications and Software.'' The presenters reviewed the background on wavelet and other multiscale transforms and gave an overview of various multiscale image processing and analysis applications including deconvolution, compression, and feature detection.

Sunday and Wednesday afternoon also provided participants an opportunity to tour the NCSA facilities. The tour included the NCSA machine rooms which house the SGI Origin 2000, the retiring SGI Power Challenge Array, the NT Cluster, and the Mass Storage System. At the Beckman Institute, participants experienced a sampling of NCSA 3D immersive visualization environments. This included the PowerWall, a twelve by nine foot display device where Paul Woodward (University of Minnesota) displayed his hydrodynamic simulations of convection in a red giant star. Also featured on the PowerWall were 3D visualizations of the Tully Nearby Galaxies Catalogue (by Stuart Levy) and computational progress of a simulation technique called Adaptive Mesh Refinement (by John Shalf). The tour was rounded out by a visit to the NCSA Cave, a room-sized, multi-person, 3D video and audio environment. Visitors wore lightweight liquid crystal shutter glasses and interacted with the graphics environments with a hand-held device called ``the wand.'' Paul Rajlich of NCSA demonstrated CaveVis, a toolkit for exploring multiple 3D datasets in this immersive environment.

The oral program featured eight sessions. The first session, Computational Infrastructure and Future Technologies, opened with invited speaker Larry Smarr, Director of NCSA. He shared with the audience NCSA's efforts to support distributed, collaborative research through the development of a National Technology Grid in which scientists harness the power of high-performance computing, high-bandwidth networks, and sophisticated visualization routinely in a distributed and often web-based environment. Following Dr. Smarr was invited speaker Andrew Chien (UCSD) who described his group's work assembling highly parallel supercomputers from PCs running Windows NT.

In the second session, Information Services, invited speaker Roberta Johnson (University of Michigan) reported on a ambitious web-based outreach program called Windows to the Universe in which Earth and space science is presented to a K-12 audience intermixed with artistic and historical connections to the human experience. Session three featured two invited talks. First, Paul Woodward described systems and software under development at his lab to visualize Tera-byte sized datasets at high resolution using large display devices such as the PowerWall. Next, Richard Puetter (UCSD) presented a unique approach to deconvolution and image modeling which he calls the Pixon method (p. 307).

Anuradha Koratkar (STScI) and Sandra Grosvenor (Federal Data Corp.) opened Tuesday's first session, Observatory Planning, Scheduling, and Telescope Control with their joint invited talk on next generation user support tools (p. 57). Among the interesting developments in the field of observation planning they described was the recent effort by a number of observatories to collaborate on proposal preparation tools. Session five, Computational Astrophysics, opened with an invited talk from Peter Garnavich (SAO) entitled ``Cosmology from High-Redshift Supernovae'' (p. 33) describing the recent analysis of Type Ia supernovae that led to the surprising result of an accelerating Universe. Tuesday's last oral session featured a review of algorithms for CCD stellar photometry by invited speaker Ken Mighell (KPNO/NOAO; p. 317).

Wednesday opened with an oral session on archiving, beginning with an invited talk by Nancy Brickhouse (SAO; p. 25) who discussed the impact of supercomputing and database advances on the use of atomic data for modeling astrophysical phenomena. Leading the final session on Astrostatistics and Databases, Tom Loredo (Cornell) provided a ``developer's perspective'' to understanding Bayesian statistical inference as an alternative to the familiar ``frequentist'' approach (p. 297).

The meeting was augmented with ``birds-of-a-feather'' sessions, or BOFs. These informal sessions gave participants the opportunity to discuss a variety of special interests. A few BOF topics from past years returned to considerable participant interest, including Linux, IDL, and FITS. The FITS BOF reviewed the current status on several issues regarding the evolution of the standard format for astronomy. Two new BOFs were added this year which reflect some current trends in astronomical software development. The Java BOF featured a panel of developers that shared tips, resources and ideas for using Java in astronomical applications which have been summarized in a web site. The other new BOF brought together two related issues (combined primarily due to scheduling constraints): Coordinating Astronomy Web Resources and The Extensible Markup Language (XML). The combination proved interesting as XML was discussed as a standard way for expressing metadata which is a major issue for Web resource interoperability. This BOF also resulted in a web site on XML for Astronomy and majordomo mailing list. The final BOF, the Future of Astronomical Data-analysis Systems, or FADS, returned to the ADASS program for a fourth straight year. This BOF, led by Jan Noordam and Peter Teuben, has traditionally been a forum for discussing the issues at work in our community that so often leads to ``recoding the wheel.'' This year's discussion examined the advantages and disadvantages of creating a repository of reusable objects for astronomical applications.

The program also included sessions for viewing poster papers and computer demonstrations. The number of posters displayed was up from previous years, but it is interesting to note the dramatic increase in computer demonstrations. In total, the program featured 10 invited talks, 32 contributed talks, 21 computer demonstrations, and 101 poster papers.

Proceedings Overview

Each year, the ADASS Program Organizing Committee is charged with determining--and in some cases, predicting--what will be the important themes and issues for our community of software developers and users. Often a session topic is chosen to attract contributions from fields that have been underrepresented at past ADASS conferences but are otherwise considered an important part of our community (e.g., Computational Astrophysics). With trends in technology changing so fast, it is interesting to see how these predictions bear out in the form of contributed papers. Sometimes topical sessions must be filled out with contributions that don't exactly fit the theme. On the other hand, some interesting surprises arise, such as the interest this year in XML for astronomical applications. In presenting the papers from ADASS98, we have chosen to reorganize the contributions somewhat so as to give a more coherent picture of software development in astronomy which we hope better reflects the issues that unfolded during the meeting.

We start with a theme that cuts across our whole community: Software Development and Management. Recent ADASS conferences show that our community is beginning to pay more attention to how we develop software. Granados (p. 19) attempts to systemize this self-examination through his Software Development Methodology Survey, the results of which are expected at ADASS 99.

From Part 1, the volume travels roughly the data trail from the scientific problem (Part 2) to the end-user. Papers reporting on software to support observatories fell mainly into two groups: those that supported observation planning and scheduling (Part 3) and those that controlled instruments (Part 4). Data Compression (Part 5) emerged as a common theme even though a session was not explicitly scheduled for it.

Part 6 shows that Data Pipelines are a major area of activity in our community, and in this strong section, we see a variety of approaches to the problem. This part shows increasing importance of distributed computing. The VLT approach illustrates a distributed model using CORBA, while the Gemini Data Handling System shows a client-server model. We also see the importance of on-the-fly calibration in which data are calibrated using the best solutions at the time a user requests it.

Part 7 shows that Archiving and Information Services to be another major area of activity. The part opens with reports on services for the end-user and progresses toward the technology behind these services. An emerging theme from this part might be interoperability and integration. Many of the contributions describe services that help bring organization to the vast amount of information available to researchers on the network.

Part 8 presents the latest work in algorithm development. Part 9 collects various general applications of statistics and databases to analysis of astronomical data. We arrive at the end of our data trail in Part 10 with the latest in user interfaces and visualization systems. We conclude the volume with another cross-cutting topic, Software Tools and Systems, which provides to both user and developer the building blocks for new applications of astronomical computing.

The People Behind the Conference

The ADASS98 Program Organizing Committee (POC) was chaired by F. Rick Harden (SAO) and included Rudi Albrecht (ST-ECF/ESO), Dick Crutcher (UIUC), Brian Glendenning (NRAO), Sally Heap (GSFC), George Jacoby (NOAO), Jonathan McDowell (SAO), Glenn Miller (STScI), Jan Noordam (NFRA), Dick Shaw (STScI), Richard Simon (NRAO), Doug Tody (NOAO), and Patrick Wallace (RAL/CCLRC). Following the conference, the POC sponsored a survey of attendees in preparation for ADASS99; the results of the survey are available on the web at

The Local Organizing Committee (LOC) was chaired by Dick Crutcher and included Allison Clark, Dave Mehringer, Ray Plante, Harold Ravlin, and Doug Roberts. The LOC would like to thank a number of people who helped with set up including Jerry Accord, Alan Calder, Jim Farrar, Alex Farthing, José Miguel Girard, Hank Kaczmarski, and Asif Qamar. We would especially like to thank Brian Kucic, Stuart Levy, Paul Rajlich, John Shalf, and Paul Woodward for their time and enthusiasm in support of the NCSA facilities tour. We are greatly indebted to the Conferences and Institutes unit at UIUC, especially to Kendra Bair for her untiring and conscientious efforts supporting this conference. Finally, the LOC wishes to recognize Dan Briggs for his contributions as a member of the LOC. Unfortunately, Dan was killed in a skydiving accident a few months prior to the conference and didn't get see the fruits of his hard work. We at UIUC and the entire ADASS community will miss Dan.

Finally, we gratefully acknowledge the support of the conference sponsors: the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the University of Illinois Astronomy Department, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, the European Southern Observatory, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Space Telescope European Coordinating Facility, Sun Microsystems, Research Systems, Inc., the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation. Their support in the form of hardware, software, and financing was critical to the success of ADASS98.

ADASS Information

ADASS99 will be located on the Island of Hawaii, October 3-6, 1999 and will be hosted by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. For further information, visit the ADASS99 web site ( or send mail to

Details about ADASS98 including program abstracts, results from the participant survey, and links to past ADASS conferences are available from the ADASS98 web site ( This year will see the establishment of a permanent ADASS web site ( which will serve as a centralized warehouse for ADASS conference information past and future.

David M. Mehringer
UIUC Astronomy Department

Raymond L. Plante
Douglas A. Roberts
National Center for Supercomputing Applications

April 1999

© Copyright 1999 Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 390 Ashton Avenue, San Francisco, California 94112, USA
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