In July 2022, Python reached for the stars, playing a key role in processing data from the James Webb Space Telescope. After two years of virtual conferences, EuroPython 2022 took place in Dublin, Ireland. Anaconda celebrated its tenth birthday, and Flask achieved a major milestone on GitHub.
Two new pre-release versions of Python 3.11 were released, with 3.11.0b5 representing the final beta version. Meanwhile, the Python Package Index (PyPI) introduced a two-factor authentication requirement for maintainers of critical projects. Finally, RStudio is changing its name and has released Shiny for Python.
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Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Python brought space down to Earth. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) made headlines worldwide when NASA and U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled its first images. The full gallery is visually spectacular and scientifically groundbreaking, as it’s full of the deepest infrared images of the universe yet.
This work was made possible by Python. As Dr. Patrick Kavanagh, researcher and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) software developer for the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, said in his talk at EuroPython 2022:
Ninety percent—or more, probably—of the analysis tools, the simulators, and so on were developed in Python […] and use Python. (Source)
For example, the JWST Science Calibration Pipeline runs on Python with some C plugins for speed. Webb’s images are processed as NumPy arrays, and data scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute rely on SciPy and Jupyter notebooks, as well as the institute’s own AstroConda channel.
If you’d like to try your hand at working with astronomical data, then you’re in luck! Webb’s data is freely available, and you can prepare to get out of this world in three steps:
Now you’re just about ready to play. But before you blast off, you’ll need to download raw data from Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). There’s a ton of data, and it can be complicated to get what you want. Luckily, AstroExploring has a how-to blog and video to help you out.
To learn more about Python’s role in this new frontier, check out Python and the James Webb Space Telescope from the Talk Python to Me podcast. Be sure to share your astronomical discoveries in the comments below!
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