News / 07 January 2016

iRODS helps astronomers take control of massive survey data

CHAPEL HILL, NC, January 7, 2016 - An international research team studying many of the tough questions in astronomy, including the evolution of galaxies and the nature of dark matter, now have a way to query their massive data sets, store and retrieve data and corresponding metadata, and transport files and images.

By partnering with data specialists at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) who develop the integrated Rule-Oriented Data System (iRODS) researchers and students now have online databases for two large astronomical data sets: the REsolved Spectroscopy of a Local VolumE (RESOLVE) survey and the Environmental COntext (ECO) catalog.

The RESOLVE Survey combines new optical and radio spectroscopy with archival multi-wavelength photometry to perform an unprecedented census of gas, dark matter, and stars in galaxies and their larger groupings, spanning nearly five orders of magnitude in spatial scale. The ECO catalog is designed to complement RESOLVE by providing a similar, but purely archival census within an order of magnitude larger volume.

“This is about going from rags to riches,” said Sheila Kannappan, PhD, associate professor of physics and astronomy at UNC-Chapel Hill and principal investigator for the RESOLVE project. “We went from having raw data with no ability to query it to databases that are searchable, expandable and flexible with version control.”

Both databases use iRODS, the integrated Rule-Oriented Data System, to store and retrieve galaxy information, flexible image transport system (FITS) files, and corresponding metadata. iRODS is free open source data management software used by thousands of businesses, research centers, and government agencies worldwide for flexible, policy-based data management that provides long-term preservation and federation. iRODS is developed and maintained by a software engineering team at RENCI with support from the iRODS Consortium, a membership-based foundation organized to sustain iRODS development. iRODS developer Justin James worked closely with Kannappan and her research team to incorporate the two astronomical surveys into the iRODS platform.

“Data doesn’t mean much if it can’t be accessed and used, and we are proud that iRODS played a part in making these important data sets available,” said iRODS Consortium Executive Director Dan Bedard. “It’s great to play a role in helping scientists make discoveries and educating future scientists.”

The new RESOLVE and ECO databases premiered this week at the 2016 American Astronomical Society meeting in Kissimmee, FL.

For more information on RESOLVE and ECO, see

About the iRODS Consortium

The iRODS Consortium is a membership organization that supports the development of the Integrated Rule-Oriented Data System (iRODS), free open source data management software for data discovery, workflow automation, secure collaboration, and storage virtualization. The iRODS Consortium provides a production-ready iRODS distribution and iRODS support and professional integration services. The world’s top researchers in life sciences, geosciences, and information management use iRODS to control their data. Learn more at

The iRODS Consortium is administered by founding member RENCI, a research institute for applications of advanced technologies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For more on RENCI, see

Terrell Russell