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FAQs

Questions about SkyServer

  1. What is SkyServer?
  2. What is the Sloan Digital Sky Survey?
  3. How do I get around the site?
  4. What can I see on SkyServer?
  5. Where in the sky do the data come from?
  6. How can I see the data?
  7. What help is available?
  8. I am a teacher. How can I use the data in my classes?

  9. How can I see if the SDSS has an image of my favorite object?
  10. How can I match a list of objects to see what the SDSS knows about them?
  11. What tools can I use to search the data for my research?

  12. Why doesn't SDSS have data for well-known visible stars (Sirius, Vega, etc.)?
  13. Why are some bright stars classified as galaxies?
  14. What is the difference between specClass and objType, and which one should I use?
  15. What does the long SDSS ID number mean, and how do I work with it?
  16. Who created this web site?

More Technical Questions

  1. What is the Catalog Archive Server (CAS)?
  2. How do I convert from the SDSS's ugriz magnitudes to UBVRI magnitudes?
  3. What is the difference between Target and Best?
  4. What is the difference between SpecObj and SpecObjAll? What does sciencePrimary mean?
  5. What are the differences between PhotoObj, PhotoTag, and PhotoObjAll?
  6. How do I get photometry for spectroscopic objects?
    What is the SpecPhotoAll table?
  7. What is the difference between SpecPhoto and SpecPhotoAll?
  8. Why do z and zErr (in SpecObj) have different numerical precision?
  9. How do I change the precision of values in the output of my query?
  10. What is the difference between specClass and objType for spectroscopic objects, and which one should I use?
  11. Why does SDSS use the long (64-bit) objID fields, and what is the composition of the PhotoObj objID and SpecObj specObjID fields?
  12. I want to mirror the SDSS archive - how can I get a copy of all the data?
  13. Where can I get a copy of the HTM (Hierarchical Triangular Mesh) spatial index library?

 


 

Answers

  1. What is SkyServer?   Back to TopTop

    SkyServer is the web site where you can get data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). SkyServer makes the entire survey available, free of charge, to both researchers and the public.


  2. What is the Sloan Digital Sky Survey?   Back to TopTop

    The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) is one of the most ambitious scientific projects of all time. Its goal is to make a high-quality three-dimensional map of the universe. The survey uses a specially-built 2.5-meter telescope in New Mexico and a CCD camera to take images of about one-quarter of the night sky. It uses sophisticated software and databases to store and analyze its data.

    The SDSS has taken images of more than 300 million objects. The survey has already completed a preliminary map of the universe: you can see the map in our First Discoveries section.


  3. How do I get around the site?   Back to TopTop

    The main menu bar near the top of the screen (from Home to Help) is always available to navigate the site. In addition, each section of the site has a side menu to help you navigate within that section.


  4. What can I see on SkyServer?   Back to TopTop

    SkyServer offers two types of data: images and spectra. Images are pictures of the night sky taken by our digital camera. Spectra are measurements of the amount of light a star or galaxy gives off at different wavelengths. SkyServer has images of about 340 million stars and galaxies, and spectra for about 1.4 million. For more about our data, see the Getting Started pages (link opens in a new window).

    SkyServer offers photometric and spectroscopic data, preview images and spectra, and links to FITS images and spectra. The SkyServer main page leads to data from the most current SDSS data release, but data for all previous releases are still available at http://skyserver.sdss.org/DRX, where X is the release number.


  5. Where in the sky do the data come from?   Back to TopTop

    The SDSS takes data in long, narrow "stripes." See the DR4 Sky Coverage page (link opens in a new window) for maps and tables that show where in they sky the current data come from. The Navigate tool (new window) also has an interactive sky globe that shows where the SDSS has data. To see if a specific area has been seen by the SDSS, enter its coordinates into the Finding Chart (new window).


  6. How can I see the data?   Back to TopTop

    There are two main ways to access data with SkyServer: browsing and searching.

    When you browse the data, you are looking at the sky, one piece at a time, to find objects that interest you. To browse images and catalog data (numbers) together, use the Navigate tool (opens in a new window). To browse images only, use Famous Places (new window) or Get Fields (new window). To browse spectra only, use the Plate Browser (new window).

    When you search the data, you are going through the SDSS database and looking for objects that match criteria you choose. For simple searches of positions, magnitudes, and redshifts, use the Search Form (new window). For more complex searches, use Structured Query Language (SQL). See the guide on Searching for Data to learn more about SQL. To see thumbnail results of objects that meet your criteria, use the Image List tool (new window).

    SkyServer has many other tools too. See Getting Started (new window) for more information on all the tools.


  7. What help is available?   Back to TopTop

    SkyServer has an extensive Help section, including an Introduction to SkyServer and Cooking with Sloan, a set of guides for doing useful tasks with SDSS data.

    Each tool also has its own Help section.


  8. I am a teacher. How can I use the data in my classes?   Back to TopTop

    SkyServer's Projects use SDSS data to teach topics in astronomy and other sciences, using guided and open inquiry. With our Projects, you and your students can learn about spectra and colors of stars, galaxy types, the history of the universe, and much more.

    You are welcome to use and adapt any of our projects in your classes, free of charge. For more information on what you can do with SkyServer in the classroom, see our Teacher FAQ.


  9. How can I see if the SDSS has an image of my favorite object?   Back to TopTop

    Find the coordinates of the object using a name resolver like SIMBAD (link opens in a new window) or NED (new window).

    Then, go to the Navigate tool (new window) and enter the object's coordinates. You can enter the coordinates as decimal degrees or as sexagesimal in the format HH:MM:SS and (+/-)DD:MM:SS. Click "Get Image" to see the object, and click on the object for its SDSS data. See the Help link in the Navigate tool for more information.


  10. How can I match a list of objects to see what the SDSS knows about them?   Back to TopTop

    Go to SkyServer's Imaging Upload tool (opens in new window). Paste your list of objects, or upload a file containing data with the last two columns as (ra, dec) in decimal degrees. Click Submit. The next page will show only those objects that appear in the SDSS, with SDSS Object IDs that link to the Explore tool.

    To see a thumbnail SDSS image of each matching object, use the Image List tool. Enter your list in the textbox on the upper left and click "Get Image". Click on one of the thumbnails to go to that position in the Navigate tool, or on one of the object names to go to that object's Explore tool entry.


  11. What tools can I use to search the data for my research?
      Back to TopTop

    For simple searches based on criteria from imaging, use the Imaging Query Form (new window). For simple searches based on criteria from spectra, use the Spectroscopic Query Form (new window).

    For more complex searches, use Structured Query Language (SQL). See the guide on Searching for Data to learn more about SQL. To see thumbnail results of objects that meet your criteria, use the Image List tool (new window).

    For large, complex queries that will take a long time to run, use CasJobs (new window), the SDSS's batch query interface.

    SkyServer has many other tools too. See Getting Started (new window) for more information on all the tools.


  12. Why doesn't SDSS have data for well-known visible stars (Sirius, Vega, etc.)?   Back to TopTop

    The SDSS has a very sensitive camera. Stars that you can see with your unaided eyes are a little too bright for the SDSS's camera, so they show up as washed out. The SDSS still gets an image of those stars (for example, here is Pollux - link opens in a new window), but their images are unreliable, and the SDSS gets no catalog data.


  13. Why are some bright stars classified as galaxies?   Back to TopTop

    The SDSS distinguishes between stars and galaxies based on their shapes: single points of light are stars, and fuzzy patches of light are galaxies. Some stars are bright enough that their light washes out the camera, so to the SDSS's camera, they look like fuzzy disks instead of single points of light. Their appearance fools the SDSS's software into classifying them as galaxies.


  14. What is the difference between specClass and objType, and which one should I use?   Back to TopTop

    In image data, you will see data called objType, which usually says STAR or GALAXY. In spectral data, you will see data called specClass, which can say STAR, GALAXY, QSO, or HIZ_QSO. objType is based only on the images, while specClass is based on spectra. When the two disagree, use specClass.


  15. What does the long SDSS ID number mean, and how do I work with it?   Back to TopTop

    The SDSS needs a way to uniquely identify every object in the database, so it generates ID numbers. The ID numbers are code numbers that include information about how the object was observed.

    One very important point is that the object IDs are so long that they get cut off in Excel, and show up with 000 as the last three digits. This means you won't be able to find your objects anymore! To get around this problem, see this workaround.


  16. Who created this web site?   Back to TopTop

    Please see our Credits page.

 

 

More Technical Answers

 

  1. What is the Catalog Archive Server (CAS)?   Back to TopTop

    The Catalog Archive Server (CAS) is the database that contains the SDSS's catalog data. There are multiple interfaces to the data, including (all links open in a new window):

    1. SkyServer: a web-based, synchronous interface for browsing and searching
    2. CasJobs: a batch (asynchronous) system for querying the database and storing results
    3. sqlcl: a command-line interface
    4. Emacs buffer: an Emacs interface for running queries

    Alternatively, you can retrieve SDSS FITS images with the Data Archive Server.


  2. How do I convert from the SDSS's ugriz magnitudes to UBVRI magnitudes?   Back to TopTop

    The SDSS measures magnitudes through ugriz filters, which give ugriz magnitudes (link opens in new window). These magnitudes can be converted into UBVRI magnitudes using a set of transformations (new window) described on the Algorithms page of this site.


  3. What is the difference between Target and Best?   Back to TopTop

    Because the survey imaging and processing was improved over the course of the survey, the SDSS often obtained improved photometric measurements of objects AFTER they have been chosen ("targeted") for spectroscopy. However, it is important to keep a record of the photometric measurements at the time objects were targeted. We therefore maintain two versions of the photometric catalog:

    1. Target:

      Known as TARGDR4 in the DR4 CAS, this database contains the photometric catalogs AS THEY WERE WHEN OBJECTS WERE CHOSEN FOR SPECTROSCOPY. This database contains the union of all target chunks. It may cover a slightly different area than Best, blended objects may be deblended differently, image quality may be worse, and photometric calibration may be less accurate. However, if you want to see what the SDSS thought the magnitudes and other properties of an object were when it was chosen for spectroscopy, this is the place to look. Note that this database DOES NOT contain links from the photometric objects to the spectroscopy (you can always get the Target data for spectroscopic objects using the TargObjID field in the SpecObjAll table), nor does it contain the tiling information. This is because the Target database is intended to be a snapshot of the survey before any spectroscopy is done.

    2. Best:

      Known as BESTDR4 in the DR4 CAS, this database contains the latest, best versions of the imaging data, processed with the latest version of the photometric processing software, and with the most recent understanding of the photometric calibration applied. For any science based on object photometry, you will want to use the Best data. In addition, only the Best database contains all of the spectroscopy and tiling information.


  4. What is the difference between SpecObj and SpecObjAll? What does sciencePrimary mean?   Back to TopTop

    The SpecObjAll table contains ALL spectroscopic objects, regardless of their status in the survey. Queries on this table can produce unusual or undesired objects. Thus, we have created the SpecObj view, which contains data for ONLY those fibers defined as SciencePrimary. To be defined as SciencePrimary, an object must meet all of the following criteria:

    1. It was targeted in the target skyVersion
    2. The plate on which the spectrum was taken is the primary observation of that tile
    3. The plate was a main survey plate (not part of the Southern survey or a special project)
    4. The objType is not QA, SKY, or SPECTROPHOTO_STD (these object types are repeatedly observed)
    5. The fiber was mapped correctly (this is the zWarning check)

    As a result, some plates may have many (or even all) of their fibers excluded from SpecObj. Some instances where this occurs are:

    • Fibers and plates that were targeted but are outside the official survey boundaries. These objects cannot be matched to a PhotoPrimary in the target. Plates 344-346, 348, and 364 (tileRun 6) have 0 SpecObjs. Other plates from tile runs 4 and 6 have reduced numbers of objects, especially 315 and 342. This could affect plates 266-315, 363, 361 from tileRun 4 and plates 342-348, 364 from tileRun 6.
    • Fibers where objType = 'SKY' do not show up in the SpecObj view. Some plates (for undetermined reasons) have large numbers of sky fibers: Plate 417 has 214 sky fibers, and they all seem to be on one half of the plate; Plate 595 has 91 SKYs and Plate 359 has 84 SKYs.
    • Fibers where objType = 'QA' also do not show up in the SpecObj view. Below is a table of the plates with more than 100 QA fibers and the number of such fibers:
      Plate# of QA fibers
      483174
      471136
      500125
      470123
      418120
      550108
    • Note: The definition of SciencePrimary relies purely on spectroscopic and geometric considerations. There are objects in SpecObj which do not have a corresponding Best photometric object.


  5. What are the differences between PhotoObj, PhotoTag, and PhotoObjAll?   Back to TopTop

    PhotoObjAll is a table in the Best and Target databases which contains all of the measured photometric quantities for all of the imaging objects. Because we measure hundreds of parameters for each of 340 million objects, this is a very large table, and queries can take very long to run.

    In an effort to speed up queries, we have created a table with only a subset of the parameters that are requested most often (a "thin table"). This table is called PhotoTag. If you have a query that uses and returns only values stored in PhotoTag, it will execute much faster than if you used PhotoObjAll.

    In addition, we have created a view of PhotoObjAll that contains only those objects that are Primary or Secondary. This view is called PhotoObj. Because this view effectively contains fewer objects than PhotoObjAll (but all the measured quantities for these objects), queries will execute faster.

    Given the above, a user should:

    1. Query from PhotoTag if it contains everything you are looking for
    2. Query from PhotoObj otherwise, UNLESS you are interested in data for objects which are neither PRIMARY nor SECONDARY. In that case, you will need to use PhotoObjAll.
    3. Importantly, the "shorthand" quantities u,g,r,i,z do not exist in the PhotoTag table (because we want to keep it as thin as possible). Instead, you must use ModelMag_[ugriz], which is indexed to make queries faster. HOWEVER, in PhotoObjAll and its views, only the u,g,r,i,z are indexed, and not the ModelMags!

    Because PhotoTag has many fewer parameters, larger portions of it can be cached, improving performance. We have found that for almost all queries which contain parameters fully in PhotoTag, it is faster. If you were looking for objects that had been detected multiple times, the fastest approach would be to perform a join on PhotoTag with itself, requiring that one object be Primary and the other Secondary.


  6. How do I get photometry for spectroscopic objects? What is the SpecPhotoAll table?   Back to TopTop

    The SpecPhotoAll table is a precomputed join between the Best PhotoObjAll and SpecObjAll tables. It includes the most requested parameters from these two tables, as well as a few pieces of information about tiling. It also includes the TargetObjID, which allows user to retrieve the Target version of the photometry.

    Note that all spectro-photo matches are not included in SpecPhotoAll, since there are additional JOIN conditions imposed on tiling and targeting information. The actual SQL fragment from the SpecPhotoAll construction is shown below to indicate all the JOINs involved:
    FROM SpecObjAll s        
    JOIN TileAll w ON s.tile=w.tile        
    LEFT OUTER JOIN TilingInfo t ON s.targetid=t.targetid and w.tileRun=t.tileRun        
    JOIN TargetInfo i on s.targetObjid=i.targetObjid        
    LEFT OUTER JOIN PhotoObjAll p WITH (nolock) ON s.bestObjid=p.objid        
    LEFT OUTER JOIN PhotoTag q ON p.objid=q.objid

    SpecPhotoAll is very useful for viewing and comparing objects' photometric and spectroscopic properties.


  7. What is the difference between SpecPhoto and SpecPhotoAll?   Back to TopTop

    As described above, SpecPhotoAll is a precomputed join between the Best PhotoObjAll and SpecObjAll tables. This includes non-science objects, and a variety of objects many users will not be interested in. The SpecPhoto view includes only those pairs where the SpecObj is a sciencePrimary (see the definition above), and the BEST PhotoObj is a PRIMARY object.


  8. Why do z and zErr (in SpecObj) have different numerical precisions?   Back to TopTop

    Internally, these numbers are stored to their full precision as they come out of the spectroscopic pipeline. When you perform a query, they have some default string format applied that cuts them to what you see. But you can use SQL's str() function to change the string format to whatever you like.

    To get z to 6 decimals, for example, change your query to 'select str(z,8,6) as z' instead of just z, and analogously for zErr. This applies the function str() to the values in column z and returns the result with column label z (without the "as", the result of a function has no column label). The str(col,length,dec) function takes the numerical value in 'col' and formats it as a string of length 'length' and with 'dec' significant digits. In other words, str(z,8,6) is the SQL equivalent to the C function printf("%8.6f",z). str() rounds the result to the number of decimals you request.


  9. How do I change the default precision of values in the output of my query?   Back to TopTop

    Use the str(column,n,d) SQL construct (where n is the total number of digits and d is the number of decimal places) to set the precision of the column that your query requests. SkyServer returns values with a default precision that is set for each data type, and this may not be enough precision for some types of science. See the Selected neighbors in run or the Uniform Quasar Sample sample queries (both open in new windows) for examples of how to use STR.


  10. What is the difference between specClass and objType for spectroscopic objects, and which one should I use?   Back to TopTop

    The objType parameter in SpecObj and other tables is set when the objects are targeted for spectroscopy, when the spectroscopic plates are prepared. The specClass parameter is set by the spectroscopic pipeline after the spectrum is observed. For science, you should use the specClass attribute. The objType field is included for studies of the targeting algorithm.


  11. Why does SDSS use the long (64-bit) objID fields, and what is the composition of the PhotoObj objID and SpecObj specObjID fields?   Back to TopTop

    The 64-bit ID fields are required as primary keys (unique identifiers) in the SDSS database tables. They are used to uniquely identify each record in the database indices (link opens in a new window) for enhanced performance. Each of them are bit-encoded with information about the observational origin, i.e., the run,rerun, camera column, etc. for photometric data, and the plate, MJD, fiberID etc. for spectroscopic objects. Please see the entry for SDSS ObjID Encoding (new window) in the Algorithms page.


  12. I want to mirror the SDSS archive - how can I get a copy of all the data?   Back to TopTop

    A copy of the current publicly-available SDSS data release is available from UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago) for worldwide distribution over fast links. Please see the SkyServer support site at skyserver.org (new window) for further details on how to host a mirror site and where to get the data. Click on the SDSS Mirrors link on that site.


  13. Where can I get a copy of the HTM (Hierarchical Triangular Mesh) spatial index library?   Back to TopTop

    Freely downloadable copies of the HTM library (in C++, Java and now C#) are available at the SkyServer support site at skyserver.org (new window). Click on the HTM link on that site.

Do you have other questions that aren't answered here? Ask the SDSS helpdesk!