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July 2011  •  Volume 4 Number 2

AstroViz 2011: Do I need my (3D) glasses for this?

Participants in the AstroViz 2011 Workshop held on the University of Washington campus.

Astronomy Visualization, AstroViz, was the topic of a workshop held at The University of Washington (UW) in early June. AstroViz workshops have been taking place since 2005, bringing together individuals with a broad range of backgrounds, interests and expertise to discuss the development of visualization for use in both research and education.

With support from Microsoft Research, UW astronomy professor and workshop organizer Andrew Connolly facilitated the two-day discussion of visualization in astrophysics, ranging from user interactivity with massive datasets, high-dimensional data, and the line between art and science. The 40 participants shared ideas on how to convey information from increasingly complex datasets and looked ahead to techniques and trends that LSST can tap into. As LSST Image Simulation Scientist, professor Connolly described how our ability to interact visually with data, and to do so rapidly, is critical when learning how to separate interesting astrophysical objects from the hundreds of thousands of transient and variable sources that the LSST will discover every night.

The workshop was held at the UW’s new digital planetarium, which was upgraded in 2011 transforming the dome into an 8-million pixel digital display. By using images streamed from World Wide Telescope (WWT) and an innovative 6-projector display system that uses home theatre equipment, the UW capability can be replicated at planetariums everywhere for under $40,000.

Marcus Lehto , Creative Director for Bungie Studios, talked about “The Role of Skies in Halo”, the immensely popular science fiction video game franchise where hundreds of millions of user hours have been spent in online play. Lehto demoed images from Halo in the planetarium dome, moving through virtual worlds with an Xbox controller, and showing how artwork for non-play “Skybox” areas are built up layer by layer. The Graphics processing units (GPUs) used to render the realistic worlds in Halo in real-time have transformed video gaming. In turn, gaming drives the development of computer technologies that are used far beyond just visualization, even extending to the processing and analysis of the stream of images from the LSST.

Photopic Sky /survey. Image credit: Nik Risinger

Another AstroViz highlight was Nick Risinger, who showed his Photopic Sky Survey, a 5,000 megapixel photograph of the entire night sky stitched together from 37,440 exposures. His year-long effort to photograph the sky and process them into a unique beautiful composite was worth the effort as we all were held spell-bound, Nick included, with the Photopic survey projected full-dome for the first time ever.

LSST’s observing cadence will allow for imaging the entire sky visible from Cerro Pachón a couple times a week, for ten years, essentially producing a full-color, digital movie of the night sky. Astrovisualization techniques such as those discussed at this workshop will be used to maximize the science and public value of LSST. And yes, you will need your 3D glasses for that!

The AstroViz 2011 agenda is online.

Article written by Suzanne Jacoby and Andy Connolly


LSST is a public-private partnership. Funding for design and development activity comes from the National Science Foundation, private donations, grants to universities, and in-kind support at Department of Energy laboratories and other LSSTC Institutional Members:

Adler Planetarium; Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL); California Institute of Technology; Carnegie Mellon University; Chile; Cornell University; Drexel University; Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory; George Mason University; Google, Inc.; Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Institut de Physique Nucléaire et de Physique des Particules (IN2P3); Johns Hopkins University; Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) – Stanford University; Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, Inc.; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL); Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL); National Optical Astronomy Observatory; Princeton University; Purdue University; Research Corporation for Science Advancement; Rutgers University; SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; Space Telescope Science Institute; Texas A & M University; The Pennsylvania State University; The University of Arizona; University of California at Davis; University of California at Irvine; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Michigan; University of Pennsylvania; University of Pittsburgh; University of Washington; Vanderbilt University

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