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Parkes Pulsar Data Users Guide

Version 1.0: 1 April 2016


1 Overview

2 Parkes pulsar data

3 CSIRO's Data Access Portal

4 Pulsar data and Virtual Observatory (VO) Services

5 The ATNF Pulsar Catalogue

6 Publications and Acknowledgements

1 Overview

1.1 About this guide

This Guide is intended to help pulsar astronomers find and access Parkes pulsar data from data archives, and query and visualise pulsar parameters.

1.2 Parkes pulsar data

Three main types of Pulsar data are accessible: fold-mode, search-mode and calibration data.

1.3 CSIRO's Data Access Portal

CSIRO's Data Access Portal (DAP) is the first port of call for searching and retrieving Parkes pulsar data.

The DAP allows querying and download of data by any user, however some data are subject to an embargo period. In this case, members of a science team can login with their OPAL account to access their data during the embargo period.

The DAP supports three types of user authentication as follows:

  1. OPAL authentication: Using the OPAL proposal applications user account system.

    To register with OPAL, go to the OPAL Home Page and click on the link to 'Register'. Enter your email address, name, affiliation and a password. The OPAL application will register you straight away and will then open a screen for you to login.

    OPAL user accounts are self managed. Please keep your account details up to date. To change user-registration details, or to request a new OPAL password, use the links to 'Update your details' and 'Change your password'. If you have forgotten your password you may request that a new one be sent my email.

  2. CSIRO Nexus authentication: Available to individuals who have accounts on the CSIRO NEXUS accounts.
  3. Australian Access Federation (AAF) authentication: Available to individuals who have accounts through the Australian Access Federation (AAF).

1.4 Pulsar data and VO Services

Pulsar data can be visualised and manipulated with Virtual Observatory (VO) Services. Section 4 contains examples regarding the use of the VO services tool TOPCAT.

1.5 The ATNF Pulsar Catalogue

The ATNF Pulsar Catalogue contains parameters of over 2500 known pulsars. These parameters can be queried and visualised.

1.6 Getting Help

  • Documentation is available online for help with:
  • DAP
    ATNF Pulsar Catalogue

  • For staff support, please send an email to You will received an automated email to acknowledge that your request has been logged. A CASS staff member will reply soon afterwards. We aim to send an initial reply to user queries within four business hours.

2 Parkes pulsar data

Pulsar data taken by the Parkes Radio Telescope as far back as the early 1990's is archived for long-term storage in the CSIRO's Data Access Portal (DAP), in CSIRO's data centre, Canberra, Australia. This archive of data represents a historic record of the sky as seen from Parkes at radio frequencies ranging from 400MHz to 24GHz.

2.1 Introducing PSRFITS format

Parkes Pulsar Data is stored in 'PSRFITS' format, a flexible and extensible standard FITS-based format developed at the ATNF specifically for pulsar data. The format supports mean pulse profile ('fold-mode') and streamed ('search-mode') multi-channel full-polarisation data. A PSRFITS format file consists of a primary header-data unit (HDU) followed by a series of binary extension HDUs, in which are stored specific information about an observation.

The PSRFITS format is readable by open source pulsar data analysis software such as PSRCHIVE, and FITS file viewers such as NASA's Fv.

Three types of pulsar data products are available for download from the DAP - these are described below.

2.2 Fold-mode observations

Fold-mode observations are recorded at the telescope for a particular known pulsar, where the data are stacked or 'folded' at the rotation period of the pulsar, to form a pulse profile averaged over the length of the observation.

Files of this type have the extension '.rf'. All fold-mode files are also processed by averaging over frequency channels, polarisation and time - files of this type have the extension '.FTp'.

2.3 Search-mode observations

Search-mode observations are essentially comprised of a multi-channel full-polarisation data stream for the length of the observation.

Files of this type have the extension '.sf'.

2.4 Calibration files

Before and after an observation, a signal from a linear noise diode is injected into the feed. This allows the associated pulsar observation to be polarimetrically calibrated.

Files of this type have the extension '.cf'.

3 CSIRO's Data Access Portal

A guide on accessing Parkes pulsar data from CSIRO's DAP is presented below along with some examples.

3.1 Login to the DAP using OPAL or NEXUS account
  1. Check that your browser options are set up to allow pop up windows.
    For example, in Firefox - to allow pop up windows use the browser Options. Then select Content -> and check that the 'block pop up windows' tick box is unselected.
  2. Go to the DAP Home Page
  3. Enter your account details using either an OPAL or CSIRO Nexus account.
  • DAP supports OPAL, NEXUS and AAF user authentication. For general use, we recommend using OPAL accounts

3.2 Locate specific collections for a specified project ID
  1. Go to the DAP Home Page
  2. In this example a user wishes to return all collections for the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array project (project ID: P456). In the green search box enter 'P456' then click on 'Search'. The search will return a list of links to multiple 'collections'. The query can be refined further using the options provided in the side bar.
  3. Click on a collection.
  4. Two tabs will be displayed: A 'Description' tab containing metadata about the specific collection, and a 'Data' tab.
  5. Click on the 'Data' tab. A list of files that make up the collection is displayed.

3.3 Find a persistent link to a specific data collection
  1. Use the above steps to bring up a collection for P456
  2. Find a link near the top of the 'Data' tab after the phrase 'Copy this persistent link...'. This link provides an indefinite link for the collection.
  3. Cut and paste this link into your browser. It will take you back to the same page.
  • DAP also provides Digital Object identifiers (DOIs) for data collections. A DOI provides a 'data citation' that allows a user to obtain a set of data corresponding to the date and time the DOI was issued. For public data sets, the DOI is a permanent link to the data

3.4 Search for data using the DAP domain search form
  1. Go to the DAP Home Page
  2. Click on the blue tab 'Domain Search' and then select 'ATNF Pulsar Observation Search'.
  3. Enter 'P456' as the project ID and click 'Search'
  4. This will return a complete file listing for P456. Click 'Refine Search' if you wish to refine your query further

3.5 Carry out a cone search using the DAP domain search form

In this example, the user wishes to find data files in a defined radius from the centre of the globular cluster 47 Tuc.

  1. Navigate to the DAP domain search form
  2. In the cone search box enter:

  3. Right Ascension: 00:24:05.35
    Declination: -72:04:53.20
    Search window: 2 arcmin

  4. This will return a list of files that have pointings within the specified search window centred on 47 Tuc.
  5. Metadata about the project ID associated with a particular file can be displayed by clicking on the project ID
  6. The averaged pulse profile from a fold-mode data file can be viewed by clicking on 'view'

3.6 Downloading selected data
In this example, a user wishes to download specific files from the 47 Tuc listing above.

  1. Navigate to the data tab of the collection
  2. Select files to download by ticking the checkboxes to the left of the required files.
  3. Scroll to the bottom of the page and select the download option. For small files, a user can download as a tar or zip file.
  4. For large downloads, a user will see a different configuration at the bottom of the page. An email address is required, and the method of data access can be selected from the drop-down list.
  5. For further information on downloading data from the DAP, please refer to the Access or Download Data page.

4 Pulsar data and Virtual Observatory (VO) Services

The notes given in this section provide an introduction to finding and working with VO tables, using TOPCAT. These are intended to be sufficient to get started but do not cover many of the available tools and features.

The information provided is based on using TOPCAT version 4.3.

4.1 Install TOPCAT
  1. Navigate to TOPCAT's download page and download the full jar file for your operating system
  2. You may also need to install a Java Runtime Environment (JRE)
  • TOPCAT and Java are freely available. To see which version of TOPCAT you are using open TOPCAT then click on Help -> About TOPCAT

4.2 Find and display a catalogue using the VO Table Access Protocol (TAP)
In this example, you will find and display a pulsar data VO catalogue.

  1. Open TOPCAT. You will see a window open up. In this guide this will be called the 'main window'. This window must stay open.
  2. Click on the link in the top menu bar to 'VO'
  3. Click on the drop down option for 'Table Access Protocol Query'
  4. You can locate the appropriate TAP by entering 'CSIRO' or 'pulsar' in the Keywords textbox, and then click 'Find Services'. Then select the 'CSIRO Pulsar' TAP
  5. In the 'Metadata' section, click on 'observation'
  6. Click 'Examples' -> 'Basic' -> 'Full table'
  7. Click 'Run Query'
  8. A new TOPCAT window will open. The data can be displayed using the variety of TOPCAT tools. Hover over the icons to display the tool types.
  9. To save a table to your laptop click select a table from the Table List. Then use file > save Table(s)/Session and follow the prompts to choose an output table format and location etc.
  • TOPCAT reads and writes a range of table formats. See the drop down list
  • To write out a VO table use the format option = 'votable-tabledata'
  • To navigate to a selected location on your computer use the 'Filestore Browser'

4.3 Run simple queries in Astronomical Data Query Language (ADQL)
Below are two examples of using ADQL.
  1. Follow the steps in section 4.2 to find the table 'observation'
  2. Click on VO -> TAP Query
  3. Try these simple queries (click OK after each one is entered)

    • Example 1: Select the top 1000 rows
      • SELECT TOP 1000 * FROM observation WHERE published = 1

    • Example 2: Select specific metadata from published files where the first 2 characters of filenames match the string 'PM'
      • SELECT projid, filename, date_obs, ra_angle, dec_angle, collection_fedora_PID FROM observation WHERE filename like 'PM%' and published = 1

  • The 'published = 1' clause should always be used for pulsar data queries
  • The pulsar VO does not support TAP radius queries, so a box selection rather than a cone selection must be used

4.4 Explore TOPCAT tools
  1. Follow the instructions in section 4.2 to add one or more tables to your Table List
  2. Select a table from the Table List
  3. Click on each of the three TOPCAT tool icons (icons 4 to 6 counted from the left-hand side)
    • Icon 4 shows the table data.
    • Icon 5 provides metadata that describe the table.
    • Icon 6 provides metadata that describe the table columns. These include units and descriptions.

4.5 Create sky plots
In the main TOPCAT window, icons 9 - 12 (counted from the left-hand side) are plotting tools. This example creates a sky plot for a set of source positions.
  1. Follow the instructions as above and select a table from the TOPCAT Table list
  2. Click on the sky plot icon (icon 11)
  3. To manipulate the plot try using some of the tools shown below the plot.

5 The ATNF Pulsar Catalogue

This section covers finding and querying pulsar attributes in the ATNF Pulsar Catalogue.

5.1 Basic queries
  1. Navigate to the online catalogue at ATNF Pulsar Catalogue home
  2. Tick the checkboxes of parameters you wish to see displayed
  3. Click 'TABLE' for tabular output
  4. You can then copy and paste the text accordingly
  5. At the bottom of the page, you can display the references in 'basic' (ASCII) or 'bbl' (LaTeX bibliographic) format
  6. If you wish to see a graphical representation of the parameters, enter them in the 'Plotted Output' section at the bottom of the page, choose log or linear and click 'PLOT'
  7. Plot axes can be toggled, and the plot itself can be saved to your machine

5.2 Advanced queries
  1. Navigate to the online catalogue at ATNF Pulsar Catalogue home
  2. Suppose you wish to return a list of pulsars with pulse periods ranging between 2 and 6 seconds. Tick the checkboxes of parameters 'Name' and 'P0'
  3. Scroll down to the 'Condition' textbox, and enter 'P0 > 2 && P0 < 6', and click 'TABLE' or 'PLOT' with 'Plotted Output' entered
  4. To query catalogue history, click on the 'History' link, where all catalogue versions will be listed. Choose a version and queries can be made as required

5.3 Further documentation
  • The full catalogue documentation is available from the Documentation link on the ATNF Pulsar Catalogue home page.
  • Currently, the ATNF Pulsar Catalogue is not compatible with VO Services

6 Publications and Acknowledgements

See CASS publications and acknowledgments