Upgrading Our Views of the Universe
Release of FITS Liberator 4 provides vital revamp to popular astronomical image-processing tool for turning data into stunning images of the Universe
18 March 2021
Astronomy is predominantly a visual science. However, an important tool is needed to produce breathtaking color images from the observations made with telescopes such as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, or the telescopes of NSF’s NOIRLab at the international Gemini Observatory, Kitt Peak National Observatory, and Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. The key to unlocking those magnificent vistas is specialized image-processing software.
Since its first release in 2004, FITS Liberator has been a popular free image-processing tool to help astronomers — and the public — produce beautiful images from observations recorded in the Flexible Image Transport System (FITS) file format commonly used in astronomy. Among image-processing experts this process is known as ‘liberation’; the data are converted to an image format that can be edited in standard graphics software. In the process, users have access to powerful tools to manage the high dynamic range intrinsic to astronomical data, to create a final product that captures the full detail — and beauty — of the source material.
An international team  recently worked with computer scientists from Enciso Systems to redesign the FITS Liberator image-processing software using modern technologies, such as the full support of 64-bit operating systems and modern libraries for fast processing. The new version, NOIRLab/IPAC/ESA/STScI/CfA FITS Liberator 4, is now being released for MacOS, Windows, and, for the first time, Linux.
“For over 15 years the FITS Liberator, in its many versions, has been my primary tool for extracting the most compelling imagery from astronomical observations that span the electromagnetic spectrum. I’m delighted with the release of this new version giving everyone access to improved functionality, performance, and compatibility.” said Robert Hurt, visualization scientist at Caltech/IPAC.
“For us, as a development team, this is a big challenge — FITS Liberator is a great tool, and it is really appreciated by the scientific community and astronomy enthusiasts,” said Juan Fajardo of Enciso Systems/BitPointer, who led the software development team and is responsible for the software’s core functionality. “The users were expecting a lot from this new version, and we believe we have delivered it.”
FITS Liberator 4 brings several useful new features, including a command-line interface that allows for batch processing of images, a much-improved graphical user interface, support for larger files, full-screen support, and much more. The software has been released as open-source code and can be accessed via GitLab.
“For image-processing professionals, the FITS Liberator has become the go-to tool for producing pretty images,” said Lars Lindberg Christensen of NSF’s NOIRLab. “It is exciting to see this major overhaul concluded. This will give the tool many more years of use.”
Stay tuned, and get ready to liberate the most fascinating out-of-this-world images!
 This work was done through a collaboration between several major astronomical organizations, including NSF’s NOIRLab, the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC Caltech), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), and the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA).
The team is composed of Juan Fajardo (Enciso Systems/BitPointer), David Zambrano Lizarazo (Enciso Systems/BitPointer), Javier Enciso (Enciso Systems), Robert Hurt (IPAC Caltech), Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), Kimberly Kowal Arcand (CfA), Peter Edmonds (CfA), Nancy Wolk (CfA), Joseph Depasquale (STScI), Davide de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab), Mahdi Zamani (NSF’s NOIRLab), and Lars Lindberg Christensen (NSF’s NOIRLab).
- NOIRLab/IPAC/ESA/STScI/CfA FITS Liberator page
- FITS Liberator Basics instruction video by Robert Hurt
- FITS Liberator Advanced instruction video by Robert Hurt
- QuickStart guide FITS Liberator 4
- Tour of the FITS Liberator Graphical User Interface
- The FITS Liberator 4 open-source code at GitLab
- The FITS Liberator 4 open-source Command-line interface code at GitLab
- NOIRLab presentation by Travis Rector about how to make images
- FITS file format on Wikipedia
- Web announcement at ESA/Hubble
- Press Release at Enciso Systems
- Bug reports can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Lars Lindberg Christensen
NOIRLab Head of Communications, Education & Engagement
Cell: +1 520 461 0433
Cell: +57 320 880 8381
Cell: +57 300 610 4615