ESA’s interface to Astronomical data for the XXI century

#Data Track

The European Space Agency ESA is Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission is to coordinate the financial and intellectual resources of its 22 Member States and shape the development of Europe’s space capability to ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESAC Science Data Centre developed ESASky as part of ESA’s Open Access Data Policy. It offers a worldwide simplified access to science-ready images and data from ESA Astronomy missions. It lets the user explore the sky freely, to visualize any part of it at any zoom level or wavelength and requires no prior knowledge of any of the missions involved. ESASKy combines the data from multiple missions at different wavelengths and has several catalogues integrated in the web application.

Currently data from the following missions is integrated in the database:

  • Herschel
  • XMM-Newton
  • Hubble Space Telecope
  • European X-ray Observatory Satellite (EXOSAT)
  • Infrared Space Observatory (ISO)
  • Planck
  • Integral

It is planned to provide data from Gaia, James Webb Space Telescope, Euclid and other future missions in ESASky in the upcoming versions.


Figure 1 Satelites of ESA’s current deep space exploration programm (September 2017)

Astronomy is evolving to a data-rich field and therefore requires big data know-how, in particular it demands highly efficient machine learning and image analysis algorithms (learning from biased data and dealing with label and measurement noise). While the amount of data is growing exponentially, the number of scientists working with it is growing linearly (Figure 2). This means that in the future data might compete to get users to look at them, and not viceversa as it happens now. A wide range of measurements are still carried out by humans, but need to be addressed by automatic image analysis in light of growing data volumes. Machine Learning could e.g. help in the classification of galaxies, the search for exoplanets or in the detection of arising solar eruptions.

dataevolution (2)

Figure 2 Evolution of the amount of data produced by ESA’s deep space exploration program

The application can be used via the web interface and by querying ESASky with a Python script (astroquery.esasky). One can discover the universe by visualizing a target object (or a list of targets) by entering the coordinates or the common/scientific name. The full sky can be visualized in different wavelengths and with the data from different mission. Once interesting regions/objects have been identified, the corresponding images can be downloaded and can be further analyzed.


Figure 3 Web Interface of ESASky



Documentaion on ESASky:

Documentation on Astroquery: