Ultra-high-resolution wall displays feature a very high pixel density over a large physical surface, which makes them well-suited to the collaborative, exploratory visualization of large datasets. We introduce FITS-OW, an application designed for such wall displays, that enables astronomers to navigate in large collections of FITS images, query astronomical databases, and display detailed, complementary data and documents about multiple sources simultaneously. We describe how astronomers interact with their data using both the wall’s touchsensitive surface and handheld devices. We also report on the technical challenges we addressed in terms of distributed graphics rendering and data sharing over the computer clusters that drive wall displays.
The Atacama Large Millimeter /submillimeter Array (ALMA) will be a unique research instrument composed of at least 66 reconfigurable high-precision antennas, located at the Chajnantor plain in the Chilean Andes at an elevation of 5000 m. The observatory has another office located in Santiago of Chile, 1600 km from the Chajnantor plain. In the Atacama desert, the wonderful observing conditions imply precarious living conditions and extremely high operation costs: i.e: flight tickets, hospitality, infrastructure, water, electricity, etc. It is clear that a purely remote operational model is impossible, but we believe that a mixture of remote and local operation scheme would be beneficial to the observatory, not only in reducing the cost but also in increasing the observatory overall efficiency. This paper describes the challenges and experience gained in such experimental proof of the concept. The experiment was performed over the existing 100 Mbps bandwidth, which connects both sites through a third party telecommunication infrastructure. During the experiment, all of the existent capacities of the observing software were validated successfully, although room for improvement was clearly detected. Network virtualization, MPLS configuration, L2TPv3 tunneling, NFS adjustment, operational workstations design are part of the experiment.
The ALMA radio-telescope’s operations depend on the availability of high-level, easy-to-understand status information
about all of its components. The ALMA Dashboard aims at providing an all-in-one-place near-real-time
overview of the observatory’s key elements and figures to both line and senior management. The Dashboard
covers a wide range of elements beyond antennas, such as pads, correlator and central local oscillator. Data
can be displayed in multiple ways, including: a table view, a compact view fitting on a single screen, a timeline
showing detailed information over time, a logbook, a geographical map.
The ALMA radio-telescope, currently under construction in northern Chile, is a very advanced instrument that
presents numerous challenges. From a software perspective, one critical issue is the design of graphical user
interfaces for operations monitoring and control that scale to the complexity of the system and to the massive
amounts of data users are faced with. Early experience operating the telescope with only a few antennas has
shown that conventional user interface technologies are not adequate in this context. They consume too much
screen real-estate, require many unnecessary interactions to access relevant information, and fail to provide
operators and astronomers with a clear mental map of the instrument. They increase extraneous cognitive load,
impeding tasks that call for quick diagnosis and action.
To address this challenge, the ALMA software division adopted a user-centered design approach. For the
last two years, astronomers, operators, software engineers and human-computer interaction researchers have
been involved in participatory design workshops, with the aim of designing better user interfaces based on
state-of-the-art visualization techniques. This paper describes the process that led to the development of those
interface components and to a proposal for the science and operations console setup: brainstorming sessions,
rapid prototyping, joint implementation work involving software engineers and human-computer interaction
researchers, feedback collection from a broader range of users, further iterations and testing.