[AstroPy] Proliferating py-astro-libs

Marshall Perrin mperrin at stsci.edu
Thu Jun 9 18:25:36 EDT 2011

On Jun 9, 2011, at 12:54 PM, Stefan Czesla wrote:
Dear all,

we would like to let you know about our recent release of a -- hopefully --
useful contribution to Python's astronomy community, namely, our PyAstronomy
package (yes, there have been more inspired names...). It consists of
several subpackages providing the following functionality:

- funcFit: An XSPEC like fitting interface for scipy and pymc
- modelSuite: Currently, models for transit light-curves and Rossiter McLaughlin effect
              (calculating and fitting)
- pyTiming: A collection of periodograms
- pyasl: Our tiny contribution to porting the IDL AstroLib to Python.

Hopefully without sounding too critical of you in particular, I'm going to ask: do we as a community really need yet another separate python library for astronomy and yet another attempt at building a core set of routines ported from the IDL library?

There is now astrolib (https://trac6.assembla.com/astrolib ), also pyAstroLib (which appears to be something entirely different than astrolib? http://sourceforge.net/projects/pyastrolib/develop), astropysics (http://packages.python.org/Astropysics/) , now your pyAstronomy, and probably more.  It looks like PyAstronomy contains wavelength conversions (already implemented in pyastrolib and astropysics) and coordinate conversions and precession (already in coords, astropysics, pySLALIB, & more).

I'm going to be provocative here:  As a community, we are doing something wrong if everyone wants to start their own new module rather than contributing to a common shared open-source core.  We are clearly doing something wrong if people repeatedly implement the same basic functions rather than building on what's already there. What do we need to do differently? How can we make it easier to use a shared repository and shared namespace for all this?

I'm not arguing that somehow there has to be one true library that everyone uses, one ring to rule them all. But wouldn't it be better if there were a more straightforward choice that community members could easily contribute to, leading to a more coherent overall system? I would assert that astrolib is probably the best candidate for growing into this, but I don't really care which one the community rallies behind. I'd just like to have some sense that we might actually be converging towards an IDL-like unified core rather than just proliferating little packages.   Currently we're just forming dwarf galaxies; how can we get them to accrete together to build a grand design spiral?

 - Marshall

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