Observations from radio telescopes are stored in multi-dimensional arrays (3-dimensional data cubes or higher) which are then analysed by radio astronomers. This analysis is enabled by the use of multiple visualization tools. While these tools are incredibly powerful, they have many limitations which are exacerbated by the sheer scale the data is reaching, with projects like the SKA predicting an exabyte of data every day.

We believe existing software can be improved by involving users in interface design and implementing features that make user's lives easier, like overlaying optical catalogues or giving users the ability to select subvolumes and automatically analyse them.

Below we present a brief overview of our goals and findings, the full texts of the reports can be found in the resources section.


  • Determine whether the use of User Centred Design (UCD) principles in the design of a software interface for astronomy visualization, will produce a design that is useful, usable and effective.
  • Develop an effective method for the overlay of optical data catalogues on 3D radio data cubes.
  • Justify the implementation of 3D selection and automated analysis in current tools, through expert evaluation.


Usability in Astronomy Visualization Software Interfaces

Final Iteration of the Prototype Interface Design

Frequent consultation with domain experts produced a much more usable, useful and effective interface, making this approach worthwhile. The overall design improved over iterations and expert users felt the final design was an improvement on existing interfaces. Novel features such as comparisons, annotations and capturing images were highly useful additions. These findings can be applied when developing types of other scientific software as well.

Overlay of Optical Data Catalogues

Overlay with Optical Catalogue Loaded

Results showed that the overlay is easy to use and the markers were relatively accurate. This functionality is likely to reduce the number of manual operations and help astronomers easily visualize points of interest such as galaxy clusters.

User-defined Selection and Analysis

Interface for 3D selection

Expert testing demonstrated that the features would improve existing options, Elliptical Cylinder selection in particular providing the biggest gains, with automated analysis and plain text export complementing it, while still being useful in their own right.