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Monday, October 7 • 11:15am - 11:45am
Maintaining FITS in Two Careers

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Building on the authors’ ongoing research into astronomical infrastructure and drawing on format theory, we address the mounting difficulties of maintaining the Flexible Interchange Transport System (FITS) file format. We pose the question: Who maintains FITS and what does FITS maintain? Astronomy is one of the few scientific fields to have a bespoke file format, created by a trio of astronomers in 1979 as an escape from the chaos of non-interoperable computer operating systems and storage media emblematic of the late 1970s computer market. Yet, FITS is more than a format, it is a mandate and encapsulation of astronomical common sense: Once FITS, Always FITS. We take account of the factors leading to the successful maintenance of FITS and discuss how the continuity provided by FITS has enabled astronomy to successfully transition from an era of astronomical images archived on optical plates to an era of multi-petabyte databases. Maintained over its forty-year history by a loose network of volunteers, today there are over one billion FITS formats in existence. FITS’ long-term continuity has attracted the interest of Vatican archivists who have adopted FITS as the Vatican’s archives official file format.

Monday October 7, 2019 11:15am - 11:45am EDT
5AB (2nd Floor)

Attendees (7)