Journal Article

Methods for rapidly processing angular masks of next-generation galaxy surveys

M. E. C. Swanson, Max Tegmark, Andrew J. S. Hamilton and J. Colin Hill

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 387, issue 4, pages 1391-1402
Published in print July 2008 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online July 2008 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Methods for rapidly processing angular masks of next-generation galaxy surveys

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As galaxy surveys become larger and more complex, keeping track of the completeness, magnitude limit and other survey parameters as a function of direction on the sky becomes an increasingly challenging computational task. For example, typical angular masks of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey contain about N= 300 000 distinct spherical polygons. Managing masks with such large numbers of polygons becomes intractably slow, particularly for tasks that run in time with a naive algorithm, such as finding which polygons overlap each other. Here we present a ‘divide-and-conquer’ solution to this challenge: we first split the angular mask into pre-defined regions called ‘pixels’, such that each polygon is in only one pixel, and then perform further computations, such as checking for overlap, on the polygons within each pixel separately. This reduces tasks to , and also reduces the important task of determining in which polygon(s) a point on the sky lies from to , resulting in significant computational speedup. Additionally, we present a method to efficiently convert any angular mask to and from the popular healpix format. This method can be generically applied to convert to and from any desired spherical pixelization. We have implemented these techniques in a new version of the mangle software package, which is freely available at, along with complete documentation and example applications. These new methods should prove quite useful to the astronomical community, and since mangle is a generic tool for managing angular masks on a sphere, it has the potential to benefit terrestrial mapmaking applications as well.

Keywords: methods: data analysis; surveys; large-scale structure of Universe

Journal Article.  7872 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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