The Footprint Database and Web Services of the Herschel Space Observatory

László Dobos, Erika Varga-Verebélyi, Eva Verdugo, David Teyssier, Katrina Exter, Ivan Valtchanov, Tamás Budavári, Csaba Kiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


Data from the Herschel Space Observatory is freely available to the public but no uniformly processed catalogue of the observations has been published so far. To date, the Herschel Science Archive does not contain the exact sky coverage (footprint) of individual observations and supports search for measurements based on bounding circles only. Drawing on previous experience in implementing footprint databases, we built the Herschel Footprint Database and Web Services for the Herschel Space Observatory to provide efficient search capabilities for typical astronomical queries. The database was designed with the following main goals in mind: (a) provide a unified data model for meta-data of all instruments and observational modes, (b) quickly find observations covering a selected object and its neighbourhood, (c) quickly find every observation in a larger area of the sky, (d) allow for finding solar system objects crossing observation fields. As a first step, we developed a unified data model of observations of all three Herschel instruments for all pointing and instrument modes. Then, using telescope pointing information and observational meta-data, we compiled a database of footprints. As opposed to methods using pixellation of the sphere, we represent sky coverage in an exact geometric form allowing for precise area calculations. For easier handling of Herschel observation footprints with rather complex shapes, two algorithms were implemented to reduce the outline. Furthermore, a new visualisation tool to plot footprints with various spherical projections was developed. Indexing of the footprints using Hierarchical Triangular Mesh makes it possible to quickly find observations based on sky coverage, time and meta-data. The database is accessible via a web site and also as a set of REST web service functions, which makes it readily usable from programming environments such as Python or IDL. The web service allows downloading footprint data in various formats including Virtual Observatory standards.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-164
Number of pages26
JournalExperimental Astronomy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Astronomical data bases: miscellaneous
  • Instrumentation: detectors
  • Space vehicles: instruments
  • Techniques: miscellaneous
  • Telescopes
  • Virtual observatory tools

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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  • Cite this

    Dobos, L., Varga-Verebélyi, E., Verdugo, E., Teyssier, D., Exter, K., Valtchanov, I., Budavári, T., & Kiss, C. (2016). The Footprint Database and Web Services of the Herschel Space Observatory. Experimental Astronomy, 42(2), 139-164.