YTEP-0034: yt FITS Image Standard


Created: September 9, 2018 Author: John ZuHone

This YTEP will define the standard for FITSImageData objects written from slices, projections, and covering grids, for better support for reading these objects back into yt as datasets using the FITS frontend, using the dataset class YTFITSDataset.


In Progress.

Detailed Description

From its beginning, yt has been capable of producing projected images of simulations as representations of the quantities which would be observed on the sky plane. This enables comparisons of simulation predictions to real data. Nearly all observational data in astronomy is in the Flexible Image Transport System (FITS) format. Therefore, yt also has a method to write slices, projections, and regularly gridded data derived from datasets to FITS files using the FITSImageData class. Documentation on how to use this class and its subclasses may be found here.

FITS files consist of a list of “header data units” (hereafter HDUs), each of which contain data in image (an array of n dimensions with n \geq 2) or table form, associated with a header which typically contains information about the coordinate system and other metadata. The header provides an opportunity to standardize FITS files written by yt so that the data is as self-describing as possible with respect to coordinates, units, and fields.

yt has also long had the capability to read FITS image files as datasets using the FITS frontend and the FITSDataset class. In general, each FITS HDU is classified as a yt field, and the metadata in its header is used to define the properties of the dataset. However, there is no universal standard for FITS files, and therefore in most cases a number of properties of these datasets may be undefined (e.g., units, coordinates, etc.).

At the very least, the FITS files produced by yt should be standardized. This requires ensuring that both the FITSImageData class and a new subclass of FITSDataset, YTFITSDataset, adhere to this standard. This YTEP serves to define the “yt FITS standard” for FITS images produced from 2/3D datasets using the FITSImageData class in yt and its subclasses.

Overall File Structure

yt FITS images shall be a single FITS file with one or more image HDUs, each one containing a 2 or 3-dimensional array with will correspond to a “field” in standard yt parlance. The dimensions of each array shall be consistent with the others for the entire file. The first or “primary” HDU will also contain an image array.

Header Information

Each FITS header associated with a a field in the FITS file shall be entirely self-describing with respect to the properties of the field, the current time of the dataset, the coordinate system of the dataset, and the unit system of the entire file. The file shall be distinguished as a yt FITS file by setting the WCSNAME property equal to yt.

Field Properties

The name of each field shall be stored in both the EXTNAME and BTYPE properties of the header. The units of the field shall be stored in the BUNIT property of the header.

Unit Information

Each header will be entirely self-describing as to the unit system of the dataset, including the dimensions of length, time, mass, velocity, temperature, and magnetic field units. In most cases, these units will be derived from the underlying dataset used by FITSImageData to produce the file, but it will be possible for the user to specify their own code unit definitions in the instantiation of the FITSImageData object. For images created by subclasses of FITSImageData such as FITSSlice, FITSProjection, etc., the length_unit of the file will be given by the units specified in the width keyword argument or be chosen automatically based on the size of the image.

Coordinate System

Each header shall have the coordinate system of the dataset stored in the WCS keywords. These will set up a linear coordinate system with an origin in pixel space at the center of the image. The relevant keyword arguments are:

  • CTYPE[123]: The coordinate system type, all of which shall be "LINEAR" for all axes.
  • CUNIT[123]: The units of the coordinate axes, in dimensions of length and in the specified length_unit of the FITS image. The units should be the same for all axes.
  • CRPIX[123]: The reference pixel coordinate of the image, which shall always be the center of the image: 0.5*(n[xyz]+1), where n[xyz] is the number of pixels in each dimension.
  • CDELT[123]: The width of each pixel along each axis in the units specified by CUNIT[123].
  • CRVAL[123]: The reference physical coordinate of the image, which corresponds to the same location as CRPIX[123].

Other Metadata

Each header shall have the current time of the dataset stored in the header keyword "TIME", where the units shall be the code time units of the dataset.

Future iterations of this standard may allow for other optional metadata such as the redshift, etc., which can be checked upon instantiation of the YTFITSDataset instance.

Example Header

The following is an example header for a density field created from a slice of a FLASH dataset, as printed out by the AstroPy command-line tool fitsheader:

SIMPLE  =                    T / conforms to FITS standard
BITPIX  =                  -64 / array data type
NAXIS   =                    2 / number of array dimensions
NAXIS1  =                  512
NAXIS2  =                  512
EXTEND  =                    T
EXTNAME = 'DENSITY '           / extension name
BTYPE   = 'density '
BUNIT   = 'g/cm**3 '
LUNIT   =                  1.0 / [kpc]
TUNIT   =                  1.0 / [s]
MUNIT   =                  1.0 / [g]
VUNIT   =                  1.0 / [cm/s]
BFUNIT  =    3.544907701811032 / [gauss]
TIME    = 1.18350909938232E+17
WCSAXES =                    2
CRPIX1  =                256.5
CRPIX2  =                256.5
CDELT1  =            0.9765625
CDELT2  =            0.9765625
CUNIT1  = 'kpc     '
CUNIT2  = 'kpc     '
CRVAL1  =                  0.0
CRVAL2  =                  0.0
LATPOLE =                 90.0
WCSNAME = 'yt      '

Many of the items in the header are automatically filled, but the rest are defined by yt.

Backwards Compatibility

FITS files generated using FITSImageData prior to these changes will still be readable, and may be recognizable as YTFITSDataset objects if they have the "WCSNAME" keyword set to "yt" in the FITS header. If not, they will still be readable as generic FITSDataset objects as before. Since previous FITS files made with FITSImageData did not include unit information in their headers, units for these files will back to default cgs values if recognized as YTFITSDataset instances by yt.


Leaving things the way they are, which means that we will have support for writing FITSImageData objects to FITS files which can be read in and mostly understood by yt with the currently available metadata, but unit support will be incomplete and some corner cases may be missed.