The EXPLORE Project, funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program, has introduced a groundbreaking suite of tools designed to revolutionize astronomy and planetary exploration. This open-source toolkit harnesses the power of interactive visual analytics and machine learning to provide astronomers and researchers with the means to delve deeper into the mysteries of our galaxy and the lunar surface. Unveiled at the recent Astronomical Data Analysis Software & Systems (ADASS) XXXIII conference and showcased at the Italian Space Agency’s headquarters, the EXPLORE toolkit offers a range of innovative features that promise to reshape the field of astronomy.
Lunar exploration: A 3D journey to the moon
One of the standout features of the EXPLORE toolkit is its lunar exploration tools, which allow users to embark on a 3D journey to the Moon. Researchers can upload, display, and compare multiple datasets obtained from lunar missions. These datasets can be overlaid on basemaps, offering a comprehensive view of the lunar surface.
The toolkit also incorporates pre-trained deep learning models that facilitate the identification of craters and mapping of surface features. A unique “pedestrian view” feature even enables users to visualize themselves virtually standing and moving across the lunar surface through digital elevation models.
Stellar research: Discovering the weirdest stars
The EXPLORE toolkit’s stellar research tools are tailored to analyze the properties of stars in the Milky Way, utilizing data gathered by the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission and other extensive databases. Researchers can assign a “weirdness score” to spectral data, aiding in the discovery of peculiar stars or groupings that exhibit similar characteristics within a population of over a million stars. Comparing star brightness at various wavelengths yields valuable insights into temperature, age, size, and energy production. When applied to the entire stellar census of the Milky Way, this information can unravel the galaxy’s composition and formation history.
The EXPLORE toolkit’s galactic tools offer users the ability to study dusty objects and the distribution of dust within the Milky Way in one, two, or three dimensions. Researchers can virtually slice through the galaxy in any orientation, revealing densely clumped dust regions and potential sightlines to objects of interest. Interactive sky maps illustrate how the dust band at the Milky Way’s core traverses the skies, offering a unique perspective of the galaxy’s celestial beauty at any given Earth location throughout the day and night.
A versatile platform for scientific discovery
Nick Cox, the coordinator of the EXPLORE Project, emphasizes the versatility of the EXPLORE toolkit and the platform it operates on. He states, “These EXPLORE science applications are demonstrators for astronomers working in a broad range of fields, including stellar spectroscopy, galactic archaeology, and lunar exploration. Both the EXPLORE tools and the platform they are deployed on are very flexible and can be adapted to other areas of astronomy and planetary science.”
User-friendly design and accessibility
Manuela Rauch, who led the development of the toolkit’s visualization tools and user interface, expressed the project’s mission to provide methodologies, tools, and inspiration for others to create their web apps and services. The user-friendly nature of the EXPLORE toolkit ensures accessibility, making it a valuable resource for the scientific community.
Complete open-source solution
Giacomo Nodjoumi, from Constructor University and the developer behind the lunar exploration tools, highlights the openness and modularity of the EXPLORE toolkit. Nodjoumi explains, “These new tools for the scientific community are completely open source, modular, expandable, and scalable, with no installation required.” This approach promotes collaboration and innovation within the field of astronomy and planetary science.
A bright future for astronomy and planetary exploration
The EXPLORE Project’s groundbreaking toolkit is set to redefine the way astronomers and planetary explorers analyze and explore celestial objects. By providing accessible, open-source tools powered by machine learning and interactive visual analytics, EXPLORE empowers researchers to unlock the mysteries of the Milky Way and embark on virtual lunar expeditions. The future of astronomy and planetary science looks brighter than ever, thanks to this innovative and collaborative initiative.
In an era where technological advancements continue to shape our understanding of the cosmos, the EXPLORE toolkit stands as a testament to the limitless potential of human exploration and discovery.