8 April 2022

Foundations of Astronomical Data Science

Rodolfo Montez Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

The astronomy-focused Data Carpentry curriculum entitled “Foundations of Astronomical Data Science” was released on 4 April 2022 as an official curriculum of The Carpentries. The Carpentries is a fiscally sponsored project of the California-based non-profit Community Initiatives, and their mission is to teach foundational computational and data science skills to researchers. The AAS Employment Committee has organized annual Carpentry workshops at the winter meetings for almost a decade. As part of the growth of such offerings and the increasing growth of data-intensive astronomy, in 2017 the AAS Employment Committee led an AAS community application to the American Institute of Physics (AIP) Venture Fund (previously known as the AIP Venture Partnership Fund) to develop this new curriculum. 

Foundations of Astronomical Data Science Curriculum

This Python-based astronomy curriculum is taught over two full days and introduces database-centric efficient astronomical research using publicly available databases of stellar motions and distances from Gaia and photometric data from the PanSTARRS project to teach common database operations and data visualization. Together, these datasets are used to reproduce part of the analysis from the article “Off the Beaten Path: Gaia Reveals GD-1 Stars Outside of the Main Stream” by Drs. Adrian M. Price-Whelan and Ana Bonaca. The curriculum offers foundational knowledge on the Astronomical Data Query Language (ADQL), which is a Structured Query Language-based database-querying language with added utilities designed specifically for astronomical research, as well as open-source Python packages (AstroPy, AstroQuery, and pandas). The curriculum guides a learner on building scalable database queries, working with data structures and storage formats, filtering data for discovery, and visualizing large data effectively and efficiently. 

Developing the Curriculum

The curriculum has been actively developed by the Astronomy Curriculum Data Carpentry Committee (ACDC; composed of Erin Becker, Azalee Bostroem, Allen Downey, Rodolfo Montez Jr., Brett Morris, and Phil Rosenfield) and has recently completed The Carpentries' incubation process. The incubation process involved development, a series of trial workshops, and several feedback sessions used to improve the material. The first two alpha workshops were led by curriculum developers and two beta workshops were led by members of the community at two different institutes. The first official offering of the stable curriculum will be at the summer meeting of the American Astronomical Society this June in Pasadena, CA — also marking the first foray into offering Carpentry workshops at the summer meeting. 

Interested in Hosting, Attending, or Teaching?

In this recent blog post from The Carpentries, you can find more information on prerequisites and links on how to request, attend, and/or learn to teach the new curriculum.