Software Use in Astronomy: An Informal Survey



Much of modern Astronomy research depends on software. Digital images and numerical simulations are central to the work of most astronomers today, and anyone who is actively involved in astronomy research has a variety of software techniques in their toolbox. Furthermore, the sheer volume of data has increased dramatically in recent years. The efficient and effective use of large data sets increasingly requires more than rudimentary software skills. Finally, as astronomy moves towards the open code model, propelled by pressure from funding agencies and journals as well as the community itself, readability and reusability of code will become increasingly important (Figure \ref{fig:xkcd}). Yet we know few details about the software practices of astronomers. In this work we aim to gain a greater understanding of the prevalence of software tools, the demographics of their users, and the level of software training in astronomy.

The astronomical community has, in the past, provided funding and support for software tools intended for the wider community. Examples of this include the Goddard IDL library (funded by the NASA ADP), IRAF (supported and developed by AURA at NOAO), STSDAS (supported and developed by STScI), and the Starlink suite (funded by PPARC). As the field develops, new tools are required and we need to focus our efforts on ones