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Learning from FITS: Limitations in use in modern astronomical research

Thomas, B. and Shupe, D. and Good, J. and Berriman, G. B. and Landry, W. (2015) Learning from FITS: Limitations in use in modern astronomical research. Astronomy and Computing, 12 . pp. 133-145. ISSN 2213-1337.

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The Flexible Image Transport System (FITS) standard has been a great boon to astronomy, allowing observatories, scientists and the public to exchange astronomical information easily. The FITS standard, however, is showing its age. Developed in the late 1970s, the FITS authors made a number of implementation choices that, while common at the time, are now seen to limit its utility with modern data. The authors of the FITS standard could not anticipate the challenges which we are facing today in astronomical computing. Difficulties we now face include, but are not limited to, addressing the need to handle an expanded range of specialized data product types (data models), being more conducive to the networked exchange and storage of data, handling very large datasets, and capturing significantly more complex metadata and data relationships. There are members of the community today who find some or all of these limitations unworkable, and have decided to move ahead with storing data in other formats. If this fragmentation continues, we risk abandoning the advantages of broad interoperability, and ready archivability, that the FITS format provides for astronomy. In this paper we detail some selected important problems which exist within the FITS standard today. These problems may provide insight into deeper underlying issues which reside in the format and we provide a discussion of some lessons learned. It is not our intention here to prescribe specific remedies to these issues; rather, it is to call attention of the FITS and greater astronomical computing communities to these problems in the hope that it will spur action to address them.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Paper
Shupe, D.0000-0003-4401-0430
Berriman, G. B.0000-0001-8388-534X
Additional Information:© 2015 Elsevier B.V. Received 22 April 2014; Received in revised form 2 December 2014; Accepted 21 January 2015; Available online 3 February 2015. The authors wish to thank Bill Pence and Rob Seaman for many insightful discussions. They thank Bob Hanisch and Michael Wise for providing helpful comments that improved the contents of this paper. This research has made use of NASA's Astrophysics Data System.
Group:Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC)
Subject Keywords:FITS; File formats; Standards
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20151105-132712181
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:B. Thomas, T. Jenness, F. Economou, P. Greenfield, P. Hirst, D.S. Berry, E. Bray, N. Gray, D. Muna, J. Turner, M. de Val-Borro, J. Santander-Vela, D. Shupe, J. Good, G.B. Berriman, S. Kitaeff, J. Fay, O. Laurino, A. Alexov, W. Landry, J. Masters, A. Brazier, R. Schaaf, K. Edwards, R.O. Redman, T.R. Marsh, O. Streicher, P. Norris, S. Pascual, M. Davie, M. Droettboom, T. Robitaille, R. Campana, A. Hagen, P. Hartogh, D. Klaes, M.W. Craig, D. Homeier, Learning from FITS: Limitations in use in modern astronomical research, Astronomy and Computing, Volume 12, September 2015, Pages 133-145, ISSN 2213-1337, (
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:61906
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:05 Nov 2015 23:41
Last Modified:18 Nov 2020 18:53

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