SkyMapper surveys the Milky Way. Photo by the ANU's James Gilbert.

Over 18 terabytes of southern sky imagery sourced from The Australian National University's SkyMapper telescope is now made available worldwide, thanks to essential ongoing support from the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI).

This is the first data release of its kind for the SkyMapper project, and follows many years of preparation by the ANU SkyMapper team and NCI. Astronomers wishing to learn more about the southern night sky will now have access to an unprecedented amount of imagery and measurements.

Dr. Christian Wolf, Principal Investigator of the ANU SkyMapper team, spoke highly of NCI and their involvement in the project, saying "For the success of the project, it is crucial to have a partner on-board, from the beginning, who was able to commit the required resources in the long run."

"The SkyMapper project will generate 2 Petabytes of data (raw and calibrated), which need to be not only archived, but accessible on-demand by the Australian and world science community through a real-time access portal", added Dr. Wolf.

Public access to the catalogues and images for the SkyMapper First Data Release is provided by the All-Sky Virtual Observatory (ASVO), an online federated network of astronomical datasets. NCI hosts the SkyMapper node of ASVO, providing an integrated and comprehensive environment for the hosting, analysis and exploration of the SkyMapper Southern Sky Survey data, including image details and object measurements.

NCI's resources are required at every stage of the SkyMapper data ingestion process. Raw data from the SkyMapper telescope is transferred directly to NCI and then duplicated, with copies prepared on both the high-speed global Lustre filesystems (hard disk based) as well as the tape-based archive.

Having live access to the data allows researchers to carry out image processing and brightness measurements of night sky objects. This process categorises objects within the raw night sky imagery, including stars, galaxies, asteroids or even candidates for the elusive Planet Nine, a large hypothetical object in the outer Solar System.

This information is stored in the SkyMapper database, hosted at NCI, which underpins current and future releases of SkyMapper data.

This latest data release can be accessed here .This release includes upgrades from the original dataset provided to the Australian scientific community in June 2017.

SkyMapper will eventually observe every part of the southern sky 36 times and is estimated to generate over 600,000 images.

In 2014, ANU researchers using data from the SkyMapper telescope discovered the oldest star in the universe. More recently, astronomers have turned to initial releases of SkyMapper imagery in the hunt for Planet 9.

SkyMapper data is made available through the SkyMapper node of the All-Sky Virtual Observatory. Partial support for the development of ASVO SkyMapper resources has been provided though funds awarded by Astronomy Australia Ltd on behalf the Australian Government programs NCRIS, ANDS, NeCTAR and EIF.