ESASky: Space Astronomy Data at Public Reach

In order to understand the ongoing processes in astronomical objects, it is essential to combine the information provided by different telescopes and instruments, in different light frequencies and different observation epochs. To meet this challenge, the ESAC Science Data Centre (ESDC) has developed ESASky, a web-based data discovery portal for visualizing and accessing science-ready astronomical data in collective astronomical archives.

The tool provides full access to the entire sky as observed by ESA and other missions, and a simple way to search, inspect, compare and download data from different missions and frequency ranges, going beyond the individual archives boundaries.

“It is fundamental that observatories and astronomical data centers provide the science users with a fast, efficient and easy manner to access those data, not only to ensure that those data are used as much as possible, but also to allow astronomers to check whether the data they need are already available, and to compare observations from different epochs or different instruments and observatories,” says Belen Lopez Marti, Science Support to the ESDC.

The figure below shows how galaxy M82 looks like in visible light and in X-rays. Its appearance is so different, that it is hard to tell it is the same object. By analyzing images like these ones and other types of data, astronomers have concluded that a burst of star formation is taking place in this galaxy, as indicated by the bright knots in the plane of the galaxy and the emerging plumes of hot gas bursting out of the galactic disk that we can see in the X-ray image. None of this could have been guessed by observing in visible light alone, given that the visible image does not reveal any special features in this galaxy.


The sky at your fingertips

The ESASky interface presents directly a view of the sky, with drop-down menus that allow the selection, for the same object, of different missions and different visualizations. It is also possible to upload a list of celestial objects and visit them in a sequence.

In addition to this possibility of visualizing concrete objects, ESASky also offers the option to view full panoramas of the sky in which we can expand regions to obtain more detail. These panoramas are made with data from missions such as INTEGRAL, XMM-Newton, Hubble, AKARI, ISO, Herschel and Planck, which gather observations in gamma ray, X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, near- and far-infrared and submillimeter wavelengths. In this way, the user has at their fingertips a complete view of the sky and all the regions observed by ESA space telescopes throughout history.

ESASky’s data is not only restricted to astronomers. The application is also available for amateur astronomers, educators and anybody with an interest in discovering the secrets of the Universe hidden in the archives of space observatories.

“What is of great value for the expert user may be a drawback for another user profile, namely that of a scientist who may be interested in data from a given mission to complement their own observations, but who is not an expert in that mission. If those data are difficult to retrieve or to analyze, such a user may simple give up using them in their scientific work,” says Lopez Marti.

It is fundamental that observatories and astronomical data centers provide the science users with a fast, efficient and easy manner to access those data
Belen Lopez Marti
Science Support to the ESAC Science Data Centre (ESDC).

Next release this spring

The second version of the application is expected to be released this spring, with new features including spectral data and observation from more astronomy missions.

“There is more to come. The possibility to inspect data from Solar System objects will also be implemented in the near future, making it possible to follow the path of an asteroid or planet on any sky panorama, and to retrieve all the data that may have observed that object. A thrilling perspective for asteroid and comet hunters,” concluded Lopez Marti.

Carina Nebula

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