Foreword to the Focus Issue on Machine Intelligence in Astronomy and Astrophysics
Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Astronomical observations already produce vast amounts of data through a new generation of telescopes that cannot be analyzed manually. Next-generation telescopes such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the Square Kilometer Array are planned to become operational in this decade and the next, and will increase the data volume by many orders of magnitude. The increased spatial, temporal and spectral resolution afford a powerful magnifying lens on the physical processes that underlie the
... that underlie the data but, at the same time, generate unprecedented complexity hard to exploit for knowledge extraction. It is therefore imperative to develop machine intelligence, machine learning (ML) in particular, suitable for processing the amount and variety of astronomical data that will be collected, and capable of answering scientific questions based on the data. Astronomical data exhibit the usual challenges associated with 'big data' such as immense volumes, high dimensionality, missing or highly distorted observations. In addition, astronomical data can exhibit large continuous observational gaps, very low signal-to-noise ratio and the need to distinguish between true missing data and non-detections due to upper limits). There are strict laws of physics behind the data production which can be assimilated into ML mechanisms to improve over general off-the-shelf state-of-the-art methods. Significant progress in the face of these challenges can be achieved only via the new discipline of Astroinformatics: a symbiosis of diverse disciplines, such as ML, probabilistic modeling, astronomy and astrophysics, statistics, distributed computing and natural computation. This editorial summarizes the contents of a soon to appear Focus Issue of the PASP on Machine Learning in Astronomy and Astrophysics (with contributions by 69 authors representing 15 countries, from 6 continents).