University of Oulu

Pevtsov A. et al. (2019) Historical astronomical data : urgent need for preservation, digitization enabling scientific exploration. BAAS 51(3): 190.

Historical astronomical data : urgent need for preservation, digitization enabling scientific exploration

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Author: Pevtsov, Alexei A.1; Griffin, Elizabeth2; Grindlay, Jonathan3;
Organizations: 1National Solar Observatory, Boulder, CO, USA
2NRC Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre, DAO, Victoria, B.C., Canada
3Harvard College Observatory, Cambridge, MA, USA
4American Association of Variable Star Observers, Cambridge, MA, USA
5U.S. Naval Observatory, Washington, DC, USA
6University of Oulu, Finland
7High Altitude Observatory, Boulder, CO, USA
8ISR, Boston College, MA, USA
9Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium
10Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, CO, USA
11Stanford University, CA, USA
12Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, MI USA, Member, AAS Working Group on Preservation of Astro-nomical Heritage, USA
13Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, USA
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.2 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: American Astronomical Society, 2019
Publish Date: 2019-06-27


Over the past decades and even centuries, the astronomical community has accumulated a significant heritage of recorded observations of a great many astronomical objects. Those records contain irreplaceable information about long-term evolutionary and non-evolutionary changes in our Universe, and their preservation and digitization is vital. Unfortunately, most of those data risk becoming degraded and thence totally lost. We hereby call upon the astronomical community and US funding agencies to recognize the gravity of the situation, and to commit to an international preservation and digitization efforts through comprehensive long-term planning supported by adequate resources, prioritizing where the expected scientific gains, vulnerability of the originals and availability of relevant infrastructure so dictates. The importance and urgency of this issue has been recognized recently by General Assembly XXX of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in its Resolution B3: "on preservation, digitization and scientific exploration of historical astronomical data". We outline the rationale of this promotion, provide examples of new science through successful recovery efforts, and review the potential losses to science if nothing it done.

The preservation of astronomy’s historical data is critical for understanding our changing Universe, but those data are at increasing risk of becoming lost. Concerted efforts are needed urgently by the entire astronomical community to ensure that that does not happen. The data must be transformed digitally so that they can be accessible and used for the benefit of scientific exploration and thence of society.

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Series: Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society
ISSN: 0002-7537
ISSN-E: 0002-7537
ISSN-L: 0002-7537
Volume: 51
Issue: 3
Article number: 190
Type of Publication: B1 Journal article
Field of Science: 115 Astronomy and space science
Copyright information: © The Authors.