LIVE Astro has the longest history of all the components in the LIVE suite. Surely someday we'll write a proper history of our grand collaboration, but here we just highlight just a few key steps along the way to LIVE Astro as it is today, including the origins and status of key software elements such as glue, WorldWide Telescope, astropy, and OpenSpace--especially as they relate to the LIVE Astro demonstrator project, MilkyWay3D.org, which makes use of all of those elements.
Way back in 2005, some of LIVE's founders created the "Astronomical Medicine" (AstroMed) program within Harvard's Initiative in Innovative Computing. It was clear that astronomy and medical imaging shared common challenges in how to make the most of inter-related high-dimensional data sets, including images and volumetric data. It was also clear that the two fields could make great use of the software that had been developed for the other. The image below is excerpted from a 2020 talk by Alyssa Goodman entitled Discovery Through Data Diversity: Exploratory Data Visualization with glue, which explains the similarities in data structures and goals between astronomical and biological data. The panel on the image's left shows a the first-ever 3D PDF figure published in Nature, by the AstroMed project. The software enabling that figure is "3D Slicer" originally developed for medical imaging, and used here to show information about a region forming new stars in interstellar space.
2008–now: WorldWide Telescope (WWT)
By 2008, it became possible to create an application giving astronomers access to nearly all online astronomical imagery in context, and the "Universe Information System" called "WorldWide Telescope" (or "WWT") was born, thanks to researchers at Microsoft Research collaborating with the astronomical community. Today, WWT is an open-source project, supported by community members and government grants. The embedded live WWT sample you see below is the modern, open-source, "webclient" version of the software, allowing anyone with an internet connection to travel anywhere of interest, in the Sky, the Solar System, the Universe, or on Earth's or other planets' surfaces. In research environments, WWT is primarily used today in its "pyWWT" form, which offers the Python controls for the software used by glue, OpenSpace and other projects.
2011–now: glue, Jdaviz, glupyter, and more
glue was originally developed as a research software experiment, to see how far one could go using python to emulate what had been done in the AstroMed project. It was described in its infancy in, 2012, "Principles of High-Dimensional Data Visualization in Astronomy," by Alyssa Goodman. That paper led to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project asking Goodman if she and her team could build out glue for use on the 3D data cubes that the IFUs on JWST would produce. Goodman & the glue founders said yes, and the many flavors of glue you see today are the result. The specific tool created for exploring and analyzing JWST data is Jdaviz (readthedocs, background).
Jdaviz is entirely browser-based. The development of Jdaviz for astronomers served as a beta test for the utility of expanding glue from a desktop downladable package to a browser-based, Jupyter-friendly toolset colloquially as "glupyter." To learn more about the many "flavors" of glue (and glupyter) available today, you can check out this live Miro Board, linking to the flavors' open GitHub repositories.
Today, glue provides both a philosophical and technical foundation for LIVE Environments, across all fields--not just astronomy. As explained in detail in the Tech section of this site, the glue library provides the central hub: (1) providing access to data sets; (2) managing the conceptual links between datasets; and (3) propagating subsets across datasets and viewers.
The Astropy Project is a community effort to develop a common core package for Astronomy in Python and foster an ecosystem of interoperable astronomy packages. The first public version of astropy was presented by several members of the LIVE team (including Thomas Robitaille & Erik Tollerud) in a Astronomy & Astrophysics 2013 publication. glue and glupyter make extensive use of astropy, as does Jdaviz.
2021–now: Cosmic Data Stories (glue+WWT)
In an education/outreach focused effort, the glue and WWT teams have collaborated to create "Cosmic Data Stories," whose goal is to teach data science concepts through astronomical and Earth Science examples. CosmicDS's creations are purely browser-based, in that they use the "glupyter" flavor of glue, and the "pyWWT" implementation of WWT. Data stories are built using a combination of IPyWidgets within Voila and/or Solara frameworks upon which many LIVE Environments also rely.
The "Hubble Data Story" video here gives a sense of what ah highly-scripted, lengthy, educational experience built using only web-based versions of glue and WWT looks like. The "See a STAR EXPLODE" interactive (try it!) gives a taste of quicker, more single-purpose data story experience.