Sunday, July 14, 2024
Science Teachers
HomePlanetAdventures in Exploring the Planetary Science Information Archives

Adventures in Exploring the Planetary Science Information Archives



This week, Conor discusses that fantastic repository of US-generated planetary science knowledge: the Planetary Information System. This knowledge, offered free of charge on the net at  permits any researcher – irrespective of whether or not they’re skilled or beginner – to learn from the area missions which have been funded by US taxpayer cash. Typically, which means that discoveries made by a mission can arrive many years after that mission has led to research led by researchers who might not have even been alive when that mission was dispatched!

by Conor Hayes

One in every of my favorite occurrences in astronomy (and in science typically) is when somebody manages to tug new data out of outdated knowledge. For instance, knowledge collected by the Galileo spacecraft in 1997 have been utilized in a 2018 paper ( to argue that Europa might need plumes of water just like these seen on Enceladus. After all, to ensure that discoveries like these to be made, outdated knowledge needs to be archived in a approach that’s simply accessible to somebody who might not have intimate data of how the info have been initially gathered.

In an try to unravel this downside, NASA’s Planetary Science Division based the Planetary Information System (PDS) in 1989. The PDS was not NASA’s first try at an archive for its planetary missions. In the course of the Sixties and Seventies, mission knowledge have been primarily archived on the Nationwide Area Science Information Middle and the Regional Planetary Picture Amenities. Nevertheless, these archives weren’t all the time essentially the most strong, focusing totally on knowledge storage somewhat than group and documentation.

The PDS, against this, was designed not simply to archive knowledge, but additionally to current it to future researchers in a standardized format that wouldn’t require extremely specialised data to make use of. To this finish, the PDS archiving requirements have been developed. The requirements are painfully particular and in-depth (the “fundamental ideas” doc is almost 50 pages lengthy, and the core reference manuals complete to over 650 pages), so I gained’t even try to clarify them in full right here. As a substitute, let’s have a look at an archived knowledge mission from my analysis to see how the requirements are literally carried out.

The fundamental premise of the PDS archiving requirements is that the info must be accessible to any believable future researcher. Which means the info completely can’t be archived in a proprietary format. Any time that you just write a NumPy array to disk as a NPY file, save a picture as a PNG, or export a doc as a PDF, you might be assuming that the know-how to learn these recordsdata will live on. If these codecs are depreciated sooner or later down the road and the final data about the best way to use them is misplaced, then the info contained inside are, for all intents and functions, gone without end.

After all, you need to make some assumptions someplace, in any other case creating an ordinary will probably be almost unimaginable. On this case, the PDS determined to imagine that future researchers can be accessing their knowledge utilizing computer systems that would perceive ASCII characters. Provided that the ASCII customary itself has been a elementary a part of each laptop since its creation within the Sixties, this looks like a reasonably protected assumption to make.


Determine 1 :
A few of the data you’d discover in a PDS label file.

Now, let’s check out an precise PDS knowledge product. This product is one body of an MSL suprahorizon film (described elsewhere on this weblog), and is archived on the PDS Cartography and Imaging Sciences Node. (The opposite science nodes, in case you have been curious, are Atmospheres, Geosciences, Planetary Plasma Interactions, Ring-Moon Programs, and Small Our bodies). Every product is available in two elements: the label and the precise knowledge. The label (seen in Determine 1) incorporates details about the format of the info, such because the variety of bytes it incorporates, which byte the picture knowledge begins on, the picture form, the bit depth, and the variety of bands within the picture. It additionally lists details about the instrument used to gather the info, just like the azimuth and elevation that the digicam was pointed at, the place on the planet the rover was situated when the picture was taken, and different helpful data just like the time of day the picture was taken and the models related to the info.

In contrast to the label, which is introduced in a plaintext format, the picture knowledge can’t be understood simply by taking a look at it. For those who open it in a textual content editor, you’ll in all probability get one thing that simply seems like an incomprehensible mess of random characters (see Determine 2). That’s in all probability not shocking although. You wouldn’t attempt to open a PNG in a textual content editor, so why would this be any totally different? Effectively, in case you attempt to open it in your favorite picture viewing software, you seemingly gained’t have a lot luck there both. 

Determine 2 :
Opening a PDS picture file in a textual content editor – a bunch of nonsense!

Because it occurs, each the label and the picture knowledge are introduced as binary recordsdata containing no data that might assist an software interpret them. A textual content editor assumes that you just’re attempting to open a textual content file, so the label, which is a textual content file, opens simply advantageous. (That is additionally the rationale why opening the picture file in a textual content editor shows a bunch of random letters and symbols – the editor is deciphering the picture knowledge as ASCII characters.) However displaying a picture is far more complicated than plaintext, so with out the steerage that your typical PNG or JPG consists of, it’s unlikely that any mainstream software would be capable of open a PDS picture file.

That is the draw back of the PDS archiving customary. As a result of it has to make as few assumptions as potential concerning the software getting used to open it, the info are introduced in such a common format that almost all frequent functions, used to being introduced with extremely structured recordsdata, don’t know what to do with them. The upside is that as a result of the requirements are so well-documented, it’s not exceptionally tough to jot down your personal code to learn PDS recordsdata. Within the curiosity of time, I finally determined to make use of code another person had already written (the planetaryimage package deal distributed by the PlanetaryPy Undertaking – it may be downloaded from their GitHub at, in case you’re ), nevertheless it could possibly be a enjoyable problem to create a picture viewer your self in your language of alternative.


Determine 3 :
The outcomes of opening a PDS picture file with a instrument designed particularly for
the duty – a gorgeous picture from the floor of Mars!

The PDS knowledge archiving requirements won’t be as intuitive or out-of-the-box straightforward to make use of as different file codecs that we may be used to, nevertheless it’s for trigger. By standardizing our knowledge archives, we’re guaranteeing that future researchers will proceed to have entry to the huge volumes of data we’ve collected about our Photo voltaic System, data that could be hiding discoveries awaiting reanalysis by some scientist who won’t even be born but.


- Advertisment -

Most Popular