Linux for Astronomers

The first task in astronomy is to collect images of the sky. In Distro Astro, the INDI library is pre-installed for you. This library is the main interface that is used in telescope control. With it, you can control telescopes from Meade, Celestron and Orion, among others. If you are lucky enough to have a domed observatory, you even can control commercial domes, such as those from Sirius Observatories.

To be able to make your observations, you need a front end to talk to your hardware. This access is provided through clients like KStars, XEphem and Cartes du Ciel, which use the INDI library to talk to your telescope.

After aiming your telescope, you need to collect some images or do some astrophotography. While you can do some of this with software like KStars, you have software specifically designed to do image capture. Some, like wxAstroCapture, are specifically written for use in astronomy. With it, you can set up automatic guiding and batch image collection. You then can go have a nice hot cup of coffee while your telescope collects your data. To help you keep track of all of these observations, you can use the Observation Manager, a logging program to maintain your records.

Figure 4. You can do image capture from your telescope with wxAstroCapture.

Once you have made your observations, you need to process them and do some science with them. The first step is to do image processing. This might be some filtering or some sort of feature identification routine. One common task is image stacking, so much so that Distro Astro includes the RegiStax package. With it, you can set alignment points and do image analysis on full stacks of images. You even can set up batch processes and run on multiple CPUs, if you have them.

Figure 5. With RegiStax, you can do image processing on full stacks of images.

You can do more complex image analysis with tools provided by IRAF (Image Reduction and Analysis Facility). Sometimes, however, the functions already available aren't enough, especially when you are doing leading-edge research. In those cases, you are forced to write your own algorithms to do this work. ImageJ is a very popular choice that is available in Distro Astro. With it, you can develop and write your own algorithms in Java.


Joey Bernard has a background in both physics and computer science. This serves him well in his day job as a computational research consultant at the University of New Brunswick. He also teaches computational physics and parallel programming.