ASTR 497: Big Data in Astronomy: Hands-on with Large Surveys


  • When: 11:00a-12:20p, Mon & Fri, Spring quarter 2014-2015
  • Where: PAB B356A (Physics-Astronomy Building, 3rd Floor)


  • Enrollment: 10 max
  • Credits: 3
  • Prerequisites: ASTR 300 (or ASTR 599)


The next decade of astronomy is shaping up to be defined by large surveys and datasets. After JWST, the next two U.S. flagship projects, both in space -- WFIRST -- and on the ground -- the LSST -- are survey telescopes. Already today, major astronomical surveys are routinely collecting hundreds of terabytes of images, creating databases with billions of objects and several billion measurements. This changes how we approach and analyze such datasets -- large surveys astronomers are becoming data scientists.

The goal of this course is to introduce you to research with large survey data, teach you how to think about such data sets, and provide an overview of what is or soon will be available. We will:

  • Learn about how large observational data sets are changing astronomy
  • Introduce modern tools and techniques for working with large data sets (incl. databases, data access, analysis, and visualization)
  • Introduce and work hands-on with existing data sets (including SDSS, WISE, Kepler and others)
  • Learn about major upcoming surveys (including PanSTARRS, Gaia, and LSST)

This will be a small, very hands-on course, with significant emphasis on learning-by-doing rather than classical lecturing. Our language of choice will be Python (and related data science libraries). It is complementary to ASTR 480 (note: ASTR 480 is NOT a prerequisite).