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Thread Safe Astronomy

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Preprint
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Submission Date
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DOI: 10.1002/asna.200710960
Source
arXiv
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Abstract

Observational astronomy is the beneficiary of an ancient chain of apprenticeship. Kepler's laws required Tycho's data. As the pace of discoveries has increased over the centuries, so has the cadence of tutelage (literally, "watching over"). Naked eye astronomy is thousands of years old, the telescope hundreds, digital imaging a few decades, but today's undergraduates will use instrumentation yet unbuilt - and thus, unfamiliar to their professors - to complete their doctoral dissertations. Not only has the quickening cadence of astronomical data-taking overrun the apprehension of the science within, but the contingent pace of experimental design threatens our capacity to learn new techniques and apply them productively. Virtual technologies are necessary to accelerate our human processes of perception and comprehension to keep up with astronomical instrumentation and pipelined dataflows. Necessary, but not sufficient. Computers can confuse us as efficiently as they illuminate. Rather, as with neural pathways evolved to meet competitive ecological challenges, astronomical software and data must become organized into ever more coherent "threads" of execution. These are the same threaded constructs as understood by computer science. No datum is an island.

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