This week I’m co-organizing a meeting at the Royal Astronomical Society in London, “Novel methods for the exploitation of large astronomical and cosmological data sets”. It’s an unwieldy title, but we’ll be discussing the implication of the huge flood of astronomical data for cosmology and astrophysics. How do we deal with the sheer volume — terabytes and petabytes of data for coming experiments (for example, the Large Scale Synoptic Telescope, one of the most important ground-based telescopes slated for the coming decade, will produce 20TB per night)? Human beings can only ever look at minuscule fractions of that, so we need computers to do much of the heavy lifting.So we’ll hear from both astronomers and statisticians about the science and algorithms we’ll need to cope. Paolo Padovani will discuss the worldwide effort to create a virtual observatory — a set of standards (and actual code running on actual servers) which allows uniform access to a wide variety of astronomical data. We’ll also hear from Imperial’s Professor David Hand, President of the Royal Statistical Society and Ben Wandelt of the Insitut d’Astrophysique de Paris about new methods for distilling signals from noisy data, and David van Dyk from UC Irvine about comparing complicated computer models with data. Finally, Alberto Vecchio from Birmingham will discuss one of the next frontiers, the challenges of doing astronomy not with light, but with gravitational radiation, which will allow us to peer closer than ever at neutron stars, black holes, supernovae, and others of the most exotic and exciting objects in the history of the Universe.
The meeting is intended for professional astronomers, but open to all (there is a fee if you’re not a Fellow of the RAS).