We present a quantitative comparison between software features of the de facto standard X-ray spectral analysis tool (XSPEC) and the Interactive Spectral Interpretation System (ISIS). Our emphasis is on customized analysis, with ISIS offered as a strong example of configurable software. While noting that XSPEC has been of immense value to astronomers, and that its scientific core is moderately extensible—most commonly via the inclusion of user contributed “local models”—we identify a series of limitations with its use beyond conventional spectral modeling. We argue that from the viewpoint of the astronomical user, the XSPEC internal structure presents a black box problem, with many of its important features hidden from the top-level interface, thus discouraging user customization. Drawing from examples in custom modeling, numerical analysis, parallel computation, visualization, data management, and automated code generation, we show how a numerically scriptable, modular, and extensible analysis platform such as ISIS facilitates many forms of advanced astrophysical inquiry.
Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
- Pub Date:
- July 2008
- Physics - Computational Physics;
- Physics - Data Analysis;
- Statistics and Probability
- Accepted by PASP, for July 2008 (15 pages)