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Data Mining

April 29, 2016

Modern-day astronomy is suffering from an embarrassment of riches. Telescopes and satellites are producing so much data that astronomers can’t handle it all. It’s difficult just to store all those observations, much less pick through them for nuggets of information. And new projects in the years ahead will collect even more data — terabytes of it every day.

Much of the glut is produced by changes in technology. Just a few years ago, for example, electronic cameras recorded a few megapixels. Today, they’re in the hundreds of megapixels, and headed toward thousands of megapixels in the coming years.

And part of the glut comes from a profusion of surveys. Instead of looking at one or two objects in a given night, a telescope might look at hundreds of objects at the same time, gathering significant amounts of information on each one. And a telescope scheduled to come online in a few years will scan the entire sky every few nights. To see a single one of its images in full resolution, you’d need hundreds of big-screen TVs.

To handle all of those observations, astronomy is developing new software, or adapting software from other fields. These tools will “mine” the mounds of information for the best nuggets. They also will make it possible to search through older data sets for discoveries that might have been missed.

So the combination of new technology and big surveys could yield some amazing discoveries in the years ahead.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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