Sky scene

Harnessing astronomical data

Many institutions and individuals collect astronomical data, however, there is currently a lack of any widely adopted comprehensive standards of recording that data and the use of a variety of systems makes it expensive.

The current retrieval processes for existing astronomical records have a number of difficulties that are commonly known as the 5Vs (volume, velocity, variety, value and veracity). If these difficulties could be solved it would result in more reliable and cost effective acquisition of useful and valuable data.

Auditorio de Tenerife Conference Centre
Auditorio de Tenerife Conference Centre

In previous research it was ascertained that the discipline of astronomy as a whole does not have, but would benefit from, a single comprehensive schema for data storage and retrieval. A conference paper on this subject was presented by Guy Beech from the University of Huddersfield at the BiDS 16 conference, Auditorio de Tenerife. The ideas and concepts being developed have relevance to those currently being promoted as ontologies (a formal naming and definition of the different types of data), with a Semantic Web (which provides a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused).

Developing a solution

The aim of this research project is to develop contemporary data management solutions for the management and utilisation of astronomical data. A key objective is to define an XML Schema and an ontology catering for the whole scope of astronomical related research within academia and industry.

Another aspect of this research will be to develop a set of tools that make use of the schema and ontology and support astronomical researchers in capturing, storing, exchanging and exploring astronomical data.

Improving data storage and usage

If these difficulties could be solved it would result in more reliable and cost effective acquisition of useful and valuable astronomical data. In addition, if this data could be saved and retrieved as semantic data there are all the additional benefits of applying ontologies to assist in better data recognition, interpretation and use.

A proof of concept has been carried out to assess which technologies can be beneficial. The next step will be to add XML based tools, Resource Description Framework (RDF) and Web Ontology Language (OWL), to design and demonstrate a practical application of astronomical data processes which will enable improved storage and use.

There is an abundance of astronomical data available and the rate of data acquisition is increasing with every year that goes by. It is intended to design an extensible ontology for all the branches and sub-branches of astronomy as a whole. For the ontology to be extensible is the key to success rather than to attempt a comprehensive ontology right from the start. The astronomical ontology will then be able to grow over time.

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