Visualization in Astrophysics: Developing New Methods, Discovering Our Universe, Educating the Earth

Part of IEEE VIS 2020

Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. October 25-30, 2020.


Juna Kollmeier
Staff Scientist
Carnegie Institution for Science
Director of the fifth phase of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-V)
jak AT

Lauren Anderson
Carnegie Postdoctoral Fellow
Carnegie Institution for Science
landerson AT

Bei Wang
Assistant Professor
School of Computing
Scientific Computing and Imaging (SC) Institute
University of Utah
beiwang AT


The Workshop: Goals, Scope, and Focus

Astrophysics has been a primary beneficiary of Moore’s law. Advances in computational infrastruc- ture have enabled both our capacity to record increasing amounts of information for an increasingly large number of objects in the universe, and our ability to numerically predict the full evolutionary history of the universe.

Although we have benefited from these advances, we have not fully utilized these rich data sources, and we observe an even greater disparity in our future. Certainly, we have made major discoveries with these datasets, and our theoretical predictions are the most sophisticated the field has ever seen. However, with the next generation of advanced computations and surveys, we find ourselves face-to-face with a “digital tsunami” of both simulated and observed data. It is clear that our 20th century interrogation techniques will be insufficient for the task at hand. The data is too large and rich to be simplified to basic equations and summary statistics – the classical way we test our predictions, or to be visualized naively without careful consideration of its scale.

Generously, the same revolution that gave us this great wealth of data can also provide the solution. Far from a fantasy of the future, modern computational power is enabling us to visualize and analyze the complex data sets we are predicting and observing. We just need to bring these modern visual and analysis techniques to these rich datasets; we need to bring together experts from both visualization and astronomy.

Why Now?

Until relatively recently, we have been using traditional analytic and statistical methods to analyze the astronomy datasets. Typically the data were sufficiently simple that these techniques were adequate; this is no longer the case. For example, we now have very large quantities of high- dimensionality data, and by applying the same, old techniques to this data we are, necessarily, losing information. This information is hard-earned, either from years of surveying the sky or millions of hours of CPU computation time. In order to make the best use of this data, we must focus on novel methods of analysis and visualization.

Goals and Scope

With this workshop, we aim to bring together members of the astronomical community and members of the visualization community with the goals of discussing:


The focus of this workshop is to build connections and collaborations between these two communities: data-rich, but technique-starved astronomers, and data-hungry and technique-rich visualization experts. These connections are ripe with low hanging fruits, which can be discussed and worked on during a single day workshop. To facilitate a common language and collaborations, we will present visualization min-challenges with a well-curated astronomy dataset on the workshop website 6 months prior to the workshop. For more challenging problems/datasets, the workshop serves as a forum to establish the initial collaborations. It helps visualization researchers to understand astronomy datasets, and it offers astronomers an opportunity to understand existing visualization techniques and tools. Co-organizer L. Anderson has precisely a dataset and visualization mini-challenge appropriate to this goal. We will also solicit other data challenges from throughout the astronomical community for interested individuals. We anticipate that the solution to these data challenges will be published in the astronomical and perhaps visualization literature but will be publicly accessible through arXiv. We are confident that the very specific mini-challenge will serve to rapidly focus both groups on existing problems (rather than purely esoteric and/or theoretical grounds) and thus begin a larger cross-community dialog.

Planned Activities


Confirmed Plenary Speakers


Confirmed Invited Speakers



The workshop will be a half-day event.

Participants and Intended Audience

The workshop targets both visualization researchers and astronomers. We welcome participation from both the astronomy and visualization communities. We expect a reasonable presence of astronomers at the workshop given the large presence of astronomers at local universities. And given the dearth of visualization techniques currently available to the astronomical community, we also think this workshop, and it’s hands-on approach, will peak the interest of many non-local astronomers as well. The VIS 2020 conference ensures a quorum of visualization experts.


Tentative Schedule


Related Literature on Visualization in Astrophysics

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    Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (PASP)
    A special focus issue from the PASP.

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    Computer Graphics Forum
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  4. Using Contour Trees in the Analysis and Visualization of Radio Astronomy Data Cubes.
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    Topology-Based Methods in Visualization (TopoInVis), 2019.

  5. New Thinking on, and with, Data Visualization.
    Alyssa A. Goodman, Michelle A. Borkin, Thomas P. Robitaille

  6. The Application of the Montage Image Mosaic Engine to the Visualization of Astronomical Images.
    G. Bruce Berriman, J. C. Good
    Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
    DOI: 10.1088/1538-3873/aa5456

  7. Interactive Exploration of Cosmological Dark-Matter Simulation Data.
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  10. Interactive Visual Exploration of Halos in Large Scale Cosmology Simulation
    Guihua Shan, Maojin Xie, FengAn Li, Yang Gao, Xuebin Chi
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  18. Linking the X3D Pathway to Integral Field Spectrographs: YSNR 1E 0102.2-7219 in the SMC as a Case Study
    Frédéric P. A. Vogt, Ivo R. Seitenzahl, Michael A. Dopita, and Ashley J. Ruiter
    Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (PASP)
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  19. Walking Through an Exploded Star: Rendering Supernova Remnant Cassiopeia A into Virtual Reality
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  20. Touching the stars: improving NASA 3D printed data sets with blind and visually impaired audiences
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  22. The Fabric of the Universe: Exploring the Cosmic Web in 3D Prints and Woven Textiles
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  23. 3DMAP-VR, A Project to Visualize Three-dimensional Models of Astrophysical Phenomena in Virtual Reality
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  24. A Novel Approach to Visualizing Dark Matter Simulations
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    IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics
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  25. Shape: A 3D Modeling Tool for Astrophysics
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  26. Visualization of Astronomical Nebulae via Distributed Multi-GPU Compressed Sensing Tomography
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  27. Visualizing Three-dimensional Volumetric Data with an Arbitrary Coordinate System
    Rhys Taylor
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  28. Houdini for Astrophysical Visualization
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  33. Gaia Sky: Navigating the Gaia Catalog
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  34. Dynamic Scene Graph: Enabling Scaling, Positioning, and Navigation in the Universe
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  35. Visualization of Multi-mission Astronomical Data with ESASky
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  36. LSSGalPy: Interactive Visualization of the Large-scale Environment Around Galaxies
    M. Argudo-Fernández, S. Duarte Puertas, J. E. Ruiz, J. Sabater, S. Verley, and G. Bergond
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  37. Fast Image‐Based Modeling of Astronomical Nebulae
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  38. aflak: Visual programming environment enabling end-to-end provenance management for the analysis of astronomical datasets
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