Astrophysics Visual Analytics
Astrophysics lends itself to a visual analytics approach to data exploration due to the inherently visual nature of much astronomical data (including images and spectra). One of the grand challenges in astrophysics today is the effort to comprehend the mysterious "dark energy," which accounts for three-quarters of the matter/energy budget of the universe. The existence of dark energy may well require the development of new theories of physics and cosmology. Dark energy acts to accelerate the expansion of the universe (as opposed to gravity, which acts to decelerate the expansion). Our current understanding of dark energy comes primarily from the study of supernovae.
The Nearby Supernova Factory (SNfactory) is an international astrophysics experiment designed to discover and measure Type Ia supernovae in greater number and detail than has ever been done before. It is the largest data volume supernova search currently in operation. Type Ia supernovae are stellar explosions that have a consistent maximum brightness, allowing them to be used as "standard candles" to measure distances to other galaxies and to trace the rate of expansion of the universe and how dark energy affects the structure of the cosmos. The SNfactory receives 50-80 GB of image data per night, which must be processed and examined by teams of domain experts within 12-24 hours to obtain maximum scientific benefit from the study of these rare and short-lived stellar events.