Big Data in Space

The article “Space: The Big Data Frontier” examines the implications that big data analysis will have on the progression of astronomical discovery and exploration. Specifically, the article discusses the issues that will face researchers should the funding for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) project be renewed. As budget renewal does seem likely, scientists must finalize and implement big data solutions soon.


The data problems that are facing the LSST team are massive; while Kirk Borne, the Chair of Information and Statistics for LSST, makes clear that the technicalities of data storage are not an issue, their challenge will be finding meaningful information in all of the data that the LSST will collect. It’s estimated that the LSST will collect “around ten petabytes [approximately ten million gigabytes] of data per year”.


Author Mari Silbey also addresses another issue that the LSST team will face – the issue of bandwidth. While the telescope will be in Chile, its data will be transported to Illinois each day, and “[while] sufficient bandwidth for moving big data around may be available in a few select geographic regions, it certainly doesn’t exist everywhere researchers reside.” However, public and private institutions are working towards resolving the bandwidth problems, and researchers are also working to improve algorithmic analysis in order to streamline the data that is to be transferred.


Though I’m not a formal student of astronomy, I’ve always found the topic interesting; ultimately, I believe that the wealth of data that the LSST project intends to provide will be invaluable in our understanding of space.  Additionally, I think that the utilization of big data analysis will be essential in the success of this project; the Sloan Digital Sky Survey “produced roughly twenty thousand academic papers”, and the LSST will produce an amount of data equivalent to the entire Sloan Digital Sky Survey every three days. Without big data analysis to help process this massive amount of information, much of the LSST’s discoveries would remain unexplored. With big data analytics, however, we will better be able to parse and utilize the discovered information to further our scientific understanding of space.