Journal Article

A fast Bayesian approach to discrete object detection in astronomical data sets – PowellSnakes I

Pedro Carvalho, Graça Rocha and M. P. Hobson

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 393, issue 3, pages 681-702
Published in print March 2009 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online February 2009 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
A fast Bayesian approach to discrete object detection in astronomical data sets – PowellSnakes I

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A new fast Bayesian approach is introduced for the detection of discrete objects immersed in a diffuse background. This new method, called PowellSnakes, speeds up traditional Bayesian techniques by (i) replacing the standard form of the likelihood for the parameters characterizing the discrete objects by an alternative exact form that is much quicker to evaluate; (ii) using a simultaneous multiple minimization code based on Powell's direction set algorithm to locate rapidly the local maxima in the posterior and (iii) deciding whether each located posterior peak corresponds to a real object by performing a Bayesian model selection using an approximate evidence value based on a local Gaussian approximation to the peak. The construction of this Gaussian approximation also provides the covariance matrix of the uncertainties in the derived parameter values for the object in question. This new approach provides a speed up in performance by a factor of ‘100’ as compared to existing Bayesian source extraction methods that use Monte Carlo Markov chain to explore the parameter space, such as that presented by Hobson & McLachlan. The method can be implemented in either real or Fourier space. In the case of objects embedded in a homogeneous random field, working in Fourier space provides a further speed up that takes advantage of the fact that the correlation matrix of the background is circulant. We illustrate the capabilities of the method by applying to some simplified toy models. Furthermore, PowellSnakes has the advantage of consistently defining the threshold for acceptance/rejection based on priors which cannot be said of the frequentist methods. We present here the first implementation of this technique (version I). Further improvements to this implementation are currently under investigation and will be published shortly. The application of the method to realistic simulated Planck observations will be presented in a forthcoming publication.

Keywords: methods: data analysis; cosmic microwave background; cosmology: observations

Journal Article.  16761 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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