Setting up your computer environment for working with COS data

Learning Goals

This Notebook is designed to walk the user (you) through:

1. Setting up a conda environment for working with COS data

- 1.1. Installing conda

- 1.2. Creating a conda environment

2. Setting up the git repo of COS tutorials (optional)

3. Downloading up-to-date reference files

- 3.1. Downloading the most recent context

- 3.2. Downloading an older context

0. Introduction

The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) is an ultraviolet spectrograph on-board the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) with capabilities in the near ultraviolet (NUV) and far ultraviolet (FUV).

This tutorial will walk you through setting up a Python environment for COS data analysis on your computer.

Notes for those new to Python/Jupyter/Coding:

  • You will frequently see exclamation points (!) or dollar signs (\$) at the beginning of a line of code. These are not part of the actual commands. The exclamation points tell a jupyter Notebook to pass the following line to the command line, and the dollar sign merely indicates the start of a terminal prompt.
  • Similarly, when a variable or argument in a line of code is surrounded by sharp brackets, like \<these words are>, this is an indication that the variable or argument is something which you should change to suit your data.

  • If you install the full Anaconda distribution with the Anaconda Navigator tool, (see Section 1,) you will also have access to a graphical interface (AKA a way to use windows and a point-and-click interface instead of the terminal for installing packages and managing environments).

Other notes:

  • It is possible to use another package manager, i.e. pip, to install necessary packages, however at present, conda is recommended, and the best documented package manager for these Notebooks.

1. Setting up a conda environment for working with COS data

1.1. Installing conda

If you are viewing this Notebook's .ipynb file, (rather than the rendered .html file,) you may already have a working conda tool. To check whether you have conda installed, open a terminal window and type conda -V, or run the next cell. If your conda is installed and working, the terminal will return the version.

In [1]:
!conda -V
conda 4.10.1

If you receive a message that the command is unknown or not found, you must install conda. We recommend installing either the Anaconda or Minicoda distributions. See this page for instructions, and install either of the following:

Conda Distribution (with link to download) Short Description Size
anaconda Distribution More beginner friendly, with lots of extras you likely won't use ~ 3 GB
miniconda Distribution Bare-bones conda distribution, which allows you to download only what you need ~ 400 MB

1.2. Creating a conda environment

conda allows for separate sets of packages to be installed on the same system in different environments, and for these environments to be shared so that other users can install the packages you used to get your code running. These packages are vital parts of your programming toolkit, and allow you to avoid "reinventing the wheel" by leveraging other peoples' code. Thus, packages should be treated as any resource created by other person, and cited to avoid plagiarizing. One package critical to working with COS data is calcos, which runs the CalCOS data pipeline. However, this package will not, by default, be installed on your computer. We need to install it.

We will be downloading a conda environment set up by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which contains all the packages, including calcos, that we need to run the tutorials, as well as most of what one is likely to need for astronomical data processing.

Open up your terminal app, likely Terminal or iTerm on a Mac or Windows Terminal or Powershell on Windows.

First, add the stsci channel to your computer's conda channel list. This enables conda to look in the right place to find all the packages we want to install.

$ conda config --add channels

Now we can create our new environment; we'll call it astroconda_hst, and initialize it with the packages in the stsci channel's list we just added, as well as the jupyter Notebook and jupyter lab packages necessary for running these Notebooks.

$ conda create -n astroconda_hst stsci-hst python=3.7 notebook jupyterlab

After allowing conda to proceed to installing the packages (when prompted, type y then hit enter/return), conda will need a few minutes, depending on your internet speed, to install the packages.

After this installation finishes, you can see all of your environments with:

$ conda env list

and then switch over to your new environment with

$ conda activate astroconda_hst

Note that you will need to activate your environment every time you open a new terminal or shell.

Testing our installation

We can test our installation by importing a package or using a tool which should be installed with STScI's astroconda distribution. At this point, typing calcos into the command line and hitting enter should no longer yield the error

command not found: calcos

but rather respond that:

The command-line options are: --version (print the version number and exit) -r (print the full version string and exit) ... ERROR: An association file name or observation rootname must be specified.

Adding other packages

We can add any other packages not included in astrocoda with this command:

$ conda install <first package name> <second package name> ... <last package name>

Now, go ahead and install the specutils package, which is briefly discussed in the ViewData.ipynb Notebook, using the following command:

$ conda install specutils

2. Setting up the git repo of other COS tutorials (optional for some Notebooks)

While most of the tutorial Notebooks can generally be downloaded and run independently, this is not true at present for ViewData.ipynb, which needs both the Scripts and ViewData directories installed side-by-side. For the best experience, we recommend cloning the entire repository of Notebooks.

You almost certainly have the git command line tool installed. To test it, type git --version into the command line, which should respond with a version number. If you don't have git installed, follow the instructions to install it here.

All of the tutorial Notebooks are hosted at this GitHub repo.

Clicking on the green "Code" button on this GitHub page gives you several options for downloading the code. Copy either the https or ssh text under the Clone heading, then type into your command line:

$ git clone <the text you copied> without the <>.

3. Downloading up-to-date reference files (recommended for running CalCOS)

This step is suggested if you intend to process or re-process COS data using the COS calibration pipeline: CalCOS.

CalCOS and reference files

The CalCOS pipeline processes science data obtained with the COS instrument using a set of reference files, such as:

These reference files are regularly updated by the COS team to provide the best possible calibration. The current and prior files are all hosted by the HST Calibration Reference Data System (CRDS). To get the most up-to-date COS reference files, you can use the crds command line tool provided with the astroconda distribution you set up in Section 1 of this Notebook.

Because some of these files are quite large, it is highly recommended you create a cache on your computer of all the COS files, which you may then update as necessary. We'll explain how to set up that cache below.

Reference file contexts

First we must briefly explain "contexts": The history of reference files is stored in context files, which list the most up-to-date reference files at their time of creation.

  • If you wish to calibrate your data with the newest files provided by the COS team, (which is highly likely,) you should download and use the files indicated by the current COS instrument context file (called an imap file). To download the files listed in the current context, see Section 3.1.
  • However, there are circumstances in which you may wish to use an older context, such as when you are trying to recreate the exact steps taken by another researcher. For this, see Section 3.2.
  • Finally, you may wish to tweak the individual reference files used, such that they don't correspond to any particular instrument context. This is discussed in our notebook on running the CalCOS pipeline.

3.1. Downloading the most recent context

First, we will check the CRDS website to determine what the current context is, as it changes regularly. In your browser, navigate to the HST CRDS homepage, and you will see a page as in Fig. 3.1:

Fig 3.1

At the bottom of this page is a list of recent contexts, titled "Context History". Clicking the context listed with the Status "Operational" (circled in red in the figure) will take you to that context's page, as shown in Fig. 3.2:

Fig 3.2

By clicking the "cos" tab, (circled in red), you will be open up the tab, showing a page similar to Fig. 3.3, where you can find the current cos instrument context file: hst_cos_<context number>.imap. This filename is circled in red in Fig. 3.3.

Fig 3.3

Note down or copy the filename you just found.

The CRDS Command line tool

Now we can use the CRDS command line tool to download all the files in this context

From your command line, we must now set several environment variables.

First, tell the crds command line tool where to go looking for the reference files online:


Next, tell it where to save the files on your computer. As long as you are consistent, this can be wherever you like:

$ export CRDS_PATH=${HOME}/crds_cache

Now we can run the initial command to sync all the files we might need. This may take from a few minutes to several hours, depending on your internet connection:

$ crds sync --contexts hst_cos_<context number>.imap --fetch-references

Well done. Your reference files are now all downloaded to the cache you set up, in subdirectories for the observatory and instrument they pertain to. To see the COS reference files you just downloaded:

$ ls ${HOME}/crds_cache/references/hst/cos

For running CalCOS, we recommend creating an environment variable pointing to this directory called lref. If you are using a bash or similar shell, simply add the following export to your .bashrc or equivalent:

export lref='{HOME}/crds_cache/references/hst/cos'

3.2. Downloading an older context

If you know the imap context you wish to download files from, simply run the initial sync command with that context file:

$ crds sync --contexts hst_cos_<context number>.imap --fetch-references

If you instead know the observatory-wide pipeline context, (called a pmap file,) you can determine the relevant imap file by going to the "more history" or "all contexts" tabs of the CRDS website.

These pages are accessible either via the links above, or the buttons boxed in blue in Fig. 3.1. Clicking on the pmap filename and then on the cos tab will show you the cos imap filename as in Fig. 3.3. You can then run the above crds sync command with this imap file as your context.

Finally, if you instead have a fits file of processed COS data whose context you would like to match, simply open its fits header to find the CRDS_CTX keyword. The value for this keyword should be a pmap file, which you can search for as in the above case. Then run the above crds sync command with this imap file as your context.

Again, we recommend creating an environment variable pointing to this directory called lref. If you are using a bash or similar shell, simply add the following export to your .bashrc:

export lref='{HOME}/crds_cache/references/hst/cos'

Congratulations! You finished this Notebook!

There are more COS data walkthrough Notebooks on different topics. You can find them here.

About this Notebook

Author: Nat Kerman

Updated On: 2021-07-08

This tutorial was generated to be in compliance with the STScI style guides and would like to cite the Jupyter guide in particular.

Top of Page Space Telescope Logo