The capabilities of GAIA fall roughly into three areas; those of an image and cube display tool, those provided for the analysis of images and cubes amd those for querying on-line resources (images and catalogue data held in the VO and other places). Each of these areas is described very briefly in the next sections. As with most graphical tools, probably the best way to find out about GAIA is to explore it interactively. Failing that many windows have a one-page description in the on-line help system and most graphical elements (buttons, entry fields etc.) have one-line descriptions that appear in the short-help region at the bottom of windows.
Windows that provide a limited range of controls for some kind of focussed task are called ‘toolboxes’. In general what they do should be obvious or they are really front-ends for other software packages. Good examples of this latter type are the photometry and object detection toolboxes. When such a toolbox is used the documentation for the command-line tools is the primary source for finding out what is going on under the bonnet.
GAIA provides the following normal “image display tool” features:
GAIA provides the following features, which are specifically aimed at astronomical work with images:
Using the facilities provided by SkyCat, GAIA is capable of downloading images from several surveys and catalogues from a wide range of sources, so for instance if your image has a world coordinate system associated with it, you can query the ESO catalogue of HST guide stars about any located within the bounds of your image. These will then be listed and plotted over your image. Similarly you can query the NED4 (NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database) and SIMBAD5 databases and see lists of all the objects that they know about on your image. You can also display an image returned directly from the Digital Sky Survey6(and then perform queries in other catalogues about this field). Named objects from certain catalogues can have their full information displayed in a web browser and may even have bibliography links to the ADS7 abstract service. Finally the HST8 archives are also available. Using these you can see what observations have been made of any objects on your image (and preview any generally available).
More recently GAIA has been extended to offer similar features, catalogue and image access, using the
developing Virtual Observatory. These like the features above are found in the
Data-Servers menu of
the main window.
Note: you should take time to find what your obligations, in terms of the correct acknowledgement of copyright, use of service etc. are, whenever you use facilities such as those mentioned above.
GAIA allows you to save remote catalogue queries to a local file. These can then be re-loaded and plotted as if on-line catalogues. This is very useful if you need to re-plot catalogues, but equally useful is the fact that local catalogues may be modified. So you can edit, sort, select and delete records (using a tool like TOPCAT9 or a simple editor if the facilities GAIA offers are not sufficient).
Local catalogues may be stored in several formats. The “native” version is called a “tab separated
table” (TST). This is a simple text file in which the values of the various fields are separated by a
<TAB> character and the catalogue headers are separated from these by a dashed
The usual format of a catalogue is as above, i.e. an object identifier followed by an RA and DEC (in
J2000 decimal degrees). Note the
<TAB> strings shouldn’t be typed in, they are shown explicitly
just to make clear where they should be placed. The TST format is also recognised by the
TOPCAT and CURSA packages (SUN/190). CURSA also contains a description of this
Additional formats that can be also read and written by GAIA (with a performance penalty) are those supported by the CURSA package (i.e. FITS-tables and STL format) and the “ASCII_HEAD” format of the SExtractor/EXTRACTOR package (SUN/226), as well as the XML VOTable10 format.
The format that is used to open or write a catalogue, is determined by the file extension:
.FIT .fit .FITS .fits .GSC .gsc
.asc .ASC .lis .LIS
.xml .XML .vot .VOT
All other file extensions are assumed to indicate a TST (the preferred extensions for these are
If you have a simple text file containing columns of positions then the most straight-forward way to plot them in GAIA is by using the ‘Select Positions...’ toolbox. This accepts (as do the various astrometry toolboxes) a file containing the following values:
in that order, e.g.
The columns should be space separated and the celestial coordinates should be in decimal
degrees, or sexagesimal format as shown above. More complex files can be imported into
this toolbox using its ‘Import text file...’ option (this allows fixed column widths or other
separators). If you need to import such a file into a catalogue window, (this is the sort of window
that queries to on-line catalogues are shown in, and provide extra facilities like applying
intensity cuts etc.) then use the
Import plain text file... toolbox from the
You can also create your own local catalogues in TST format. This allows you to describe
how to plot the catalogue. For instance if you wanted to plot position vectors as correctly
orientated lines over an image you would need a tab table that contained the following sort of
information (again note that the
<TAB> string should be replace by a single tab character):
y_colparameters indicate the columns of the data that correspond to the X and Y positions and the symbol parameter how to plot a line centered on that position. In this case the statements says extract values for the
ANGLEcolumns, then draw lines with position angle
LENGTH0.1pixels. Note that a dollar sign is used to prefix column names in these expressions (in fact these expressions will be parsed by the Tcl “expr” command, with the column values set to a variable with the same name as the column for each line in the table).
Creating such a symbol parameter is best done by using the special
Set Plot Symbols... window,
available under the local catalogue menu
Options. Using this window you can plot multiple symbols
per object, specify which column to use as labels, change the graphic colour etc.. Now if you look in
˜/.skycat/skycat.cfg after setting up your options a suitable symbol parameter is recorded
together which the description for your local catalogue (which you can then edit into your tab
To find out more about the TST format and how to configure plot symbols you should consult the ESO document ‘Astronomical Catalog Library’11 and ‘Writing Catalogue and Image Servers for GAIA and CURSA ’ (SSN/75).
Much of the above also applies to FITS tables that GAIA will read, i.e. FITS keywords with the name
SYMBOL will be interpreted correctly. Special parameter names that are longer than 8 characters (such
copyright) should be truncated. Long symbol
expressions can span more than one card by using the names:
SYMBOL9. The columns
used for world coordinates should have units of degrees or radians and have names like
Catalogues produced by the CUPID application can be displayed in 2D or 3D and it’s masks can be displayed or used to view regions.
To display a 2D catalogue just open it as a local catalogue or import it using the
catalogue... toolbox in the
positions menu. This latter option allows you to select
which columns to use as RA and Dec and whether to use the special
Shape column as the plotting
symbol (STC-S ellipses and polygons are supported). If you choose not to use the STC-S shapes then
boxes based on the extents will be displayed.
Displaying 3D catalogues should be done by importing them using the cube toolbox (
CUPID catalogue). When imported this way only regions that are in the current slice will be
displayed. Note that if opened as a 2D catalogue all the regions will be displayed. 3D catalogues can
also be viewed in a 3D scene as prisms, just select one of the 3D renderers in the
View menu in the
cube toolbox and click on the
CUPID tab and select
Display catalogues:. You can restrict the regions
displayed to rows selected in the associated catalogue window by selecting
Only show selected
To use a 2D mask open it using the
Mask image... toolbox in the
Image-Analysis menu. This can
then be applied to the displayed image and individual or ranges of regions can be selected for
To use a 3D mask look in the CUPID tab in the 3D rendering window and select your mask in the
Mask: entry. To just display the mask select
Display: and press
Draw. To view individual regions or a
range enter some values into
Values:. To apply these regions to the main cube and select the
original flux you need to select
Apply mask: and probably select
Display: of the mask
itself (although you can display both together, in that case you may want to change the
GAIA can display and perform analyses on many different data formats. It does this by using the “on-the-fly” conversion facilities of the NDF library, which it uses directly. This on-the-fly conversion uses external programs that can convert your data from its current format into an NDF and then back again (if necessary).
The CONVERT (SUN/55) package provides many formats that are useful for astronomers (e.g. FITS, IRAF and old FIGARO formats) and is automatically used by GAIA (unless you have set up your own conversion facilities, see SSN/20 if you think you need to do this). All the formats recognised at any time by GAIA are shown in a menu in the file chooser, so check this to see if your format is available.
FITS files are a special case in that GAIA will read these natively (which gains increased efficiency), however, any external analysis routines (such as those used in the photometry toolbox) will still need to be able to convert these files into NDFs, using the on-the-fly facility, so if you define your own conversion facilities make sure that you include a FITS converter (note these doesn’t apply to FITS data cubes, GAIA handles converting these into NDFs for the various toolboxes directly).
To display any of these images in GAIA just type the full disk-file name on the command-line (either
when you start GAIA or by using the
gaiadisp command), or similarly select the disk-file in the open
To display a FITS file extension image, either open the disk file and choose the extension
HDU selector window that appears, or add the extension number to the disk-file
The FITS primary array is number .
A similar mechanism exists for NDFs stored in container files at other than the top-level:
In this case any other NDFs stored at the same level in the container file will also be shown in a selector window. NDF slices can also be used:
This can also be applied to FITS files and other foreign formats, but note that this means that FITS files will now be accessed as foreign, i.e. the FITS files will really be NDFs:
SAMP stands for Simple Application Messaging Protocol. It is a protocol which allows tools on the
desktop to communicate with each other. Very briefly, the way it works is that applications can send
messages to a central
hub process which will then pass them on to other applications which can
respond to them in some appropriate way. GAIA can use SAMP to send and receive images, sky
position information, and catalogues or identification of rows within them. It can also send extracted
spectra. You will require a hub, either free-standing or integral to some other application, to use these
You can find more information about how it works, what applications are compatible, and how it can be useful
at the SAMP12
web page. To remove the
Interop menu you can use the
Startup options... window located in the
SAMP is an evolution of the earlier similar protocol PLASTIC13. PLASTIC support, which was provided in earlier versions of GAIA, has now been withdrawn in favour of SAMP.