World's largest digital sky survey brings biggest astronomical data ever

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Representational Image
Representational Image

New Delhi : Astronomers during the largest digital sky survey have revealed the biggest astronomical information, which is over 1.6 petabytes. It is the second edition of data, scientists say.

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in the US in conjunction with the University of Hawai'i Institute for Astronomy (IfA) has released data from Pan-STARRS, the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System. 

The second edition of release contains over 1.6 petabytes of data, making it the largest volume of astronomical information ever released. 

The collected imaging data is equivalent to two billion selfies, or 30,000 times the total text content of Wikipedia, researchers said. 

The Pan-STARRS observatory consists of a 1.8 metre telescope equipped with a 1.4-billion-pixel digital camera. Conceived and developed by the IFA, it embarked on a digital survey of the sky in visible and near-infrared light in May 2010. 

Pan-STARRS were the first survey to observe the entire sky visible from Hawai'i multiple times in many colours of light. One of the survey's goals was to identify moving, transient, and variable objects, including asteroids that could potentially threaten the Earth. 

The survey took about four years to complete, scanning the sky 12 times in five filters. This second data release provides, for the first time, access to all of the individual exposures at each epoch of time. 

This will allow astronomers and public users of the records to search the full survey for high-energy explosive events in the cosmos, discover moving objects in our own solar system, and explore the time domain of the universe. 

"Pan-STARRS DR2 represents a vast quantity of astronomical data, with many great discoveries already unveiled," said Heather Flewelling, a researcher at the Institute for Astronomy in Hawai'i. 

"These discoveries just barely scratch the surface of what is possible, however, and the astronomy community will now be able to dig deep, mine the data, and find the astronomical treasures within that we have not even begun to imagine," said Flewelling. 

The four years of data comprise 3 billion separate sources, including stars, galaxies, and various other objects. 

"The Pan-STARRS1 Survey allows anyone access to millions of images and catalogues containing precision measurements of billions of stars, galaxies, and moving objects," said Ken Chambers, Director of the Pan-STARRS Observatories. 

"While searching for Near Earth Objects, Pan-STARRS has made many discoveries from 'Oumuamua passing through our solar system to lonely planet’s between the stars; it has mapped the dust in three dimensions in our galaxy and found new streams of stars; and it has found new kinds of exploding stars and distant quasars in the early universe," Chambers said. 

"We hope people will discover all kinds of things we missed in this incredibly large and rich dataset," he said.