In my humble opinion, astronomers could be making more use of the fantastic tools that are in the astropy. One of the obstacles to this, as identified at the Python in Astronomy workshop, was documentation and worked examples. There are some tutorials for Astropy already, as well as other introductory material for astronomers, but more never hurts.

I was using astropy to do a small task the other day and was really impressed at how the tools in astropy made this very easy. What I needed to do was take some existing FITS images of M31 and construct masks that could be used to select only pixels that were within specific ranges of M31-o-centric distance.

I wrote this as a function, because that’s how I’m used to doing things. I wouldn’t claim it is totally beautiful code, but it’s not too terrible. Here it is, hopefully commented well enough to make it understandable.

import numpy as np
import as fits
import astropy.units as u
from astropy.wcs import WCS
from astropy.coordinates import SkyCoord, Angle, Distance
from gal_radii_pb import correct_rgc

def do_check(masklist, masklims, save_new_mask=False):
    '''check that masks which are supposed to select only certain galactocentric 
           distances do this correctly
       masklist: list of masks to check
       masklims: list of tuples with distance limits corresponding to each mask
       save_new_mask: write out new masks?
       no return value, but masks may be written to file
    if len(masklist) != len(masklims):
        print 'first 2 arguments must have same length'

    for i, mask in enumerate(masklist):
        # get the limits of galactocentric distance
        lower, upper = masklims[i]

        # read in mask to be checked
        maskdat, maskhead = fits.getdata(mask, header=True)
        # set its NaN values to 0

        # read mask WCS and construct an array of coordinates
        maskwcs = WCS(maskhead)
        # make an array with the x and y coordinates of each pixel
        pix_indices = np.indices(maskdat.shape) 
        # now compute the corresponding sky coordinates for each pixel
        coords = SkyCoord.from_pixel(pix_indices[1],pix_indices[0],maskwcs,origin=0) 
        # compute galactocentric distance using a specific set of parameters for M31
        galacto_dist = correct_rgc(coords, glx_ctr=SkyCoord(10.724382145*u.deg, 
                                           glx_dist=Distance(780, unit=u.kpc),
        # drop the unit on the distance
        galacto_dist_kpc = 

        # construct a new mask with specified distances
        newmask = np.zeros(maskdat.shape) # mask with zeros
        # change only certain pixels to 1
        newmask[np.logical_and(galacto_dist_kpc > lower, 
                               galacto_dist_kpc < upper)]=1.0 

        # see if the new and old masks are equal
        check = np.array_equal(maskdat, newmask) 
        print '%s %s' % (mask, check)

        # if the masks aren't perfectly equal, see how close they are
        if not check: 
            matches = np.count_nonzero(maskdat==newmask)
            print '%d matches out of %d pix (%f)' % 
                (matches, maskdat.size, float(matches)/maskdat.size)
        # if desired, write out the new mask (with the old header) to a fits file
        if save_new_mask: 
            newname = mask[:-5] + '.check.fits'
            fits.writeto(newname, newmask, maskhead)

This code makes use of a number of the astropy modules including:

The only non-astropy stuff is from gal_radii_pb import correct_rgc — this refers to a function I wrote myself to compute deprojected galactocentric distances; you can find it here. Thanks to Jonathan Sick who fixed up the first version of it that I posted.

The nice thing about using astropy is that it hides a lot of the complexity of the computations. Personally, I like this, but I also like that it’s an open-source project and I can look at the code if I want to. The important message, though, is that I shouldn’t be writing my own code to compute the distance between two coordinates on the sky; someone else has already done it, and probably tested it better than I would. I’d encourage others to explore astropy and its many modules – a lot of the work you are doing may already be done!