Main sections of this help document:

Some step-by-step examples

Introduction to Browse

Browse provides access to the catalogs and astronomical archives of the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC) over the World-Wide Web. Catalogs include data from all astronomical regimes, but the emphasis of the archive is data from high energy astrophysics satellites. These satellites, launched by NASA and other space agencies, observe X rays and gamma rays from astronomical objects including stars, galaxies, supernova remnants, clusters of galaxies and active galactic nuclei. This document gives a brief description of how to use Browse.

There are four different Browse interfaces:

Main Interface

VizieR logoIn addition to offering access to the catalogs and tables at the HEASARC, the Browse main interface supports transparent access to thousands of catalogs in VizieR maintained by the CDS in Strasbourg, France and mirrored at sites around the world. When VizieR tables are queried, links are provided wherever possible so that the user can switch to the VizieR query interface.

Quick Start

The HEASARC Browse comprises several layers of Web pages starting from the launch page and providing successively more detailed access to the information resources of the HEASARC. A typical search for archival information looks something like the following:

Limitations of starting the search from the first page:

Detailed help

The Main Browse interface comprises a series of forms: the Missions selection form, the optional Catalog Selection form, the optional Parameter Search form, the Query Results form, the Data Products form, and the Data Retrieval form. Typically, you will descend through these forms until the data desired is found. The last two forms are used only if archival data is to be retrieved. You may use the features of your Web browser to back up to previous forms, make a change to the selection at that level, and then go forward.

Mission Selection page

The first form is the Missions selection form. You may enter one or more object names or coordinates, and/or observation dates. If you are planning to query tables on parameters other than position or dates, ignore this section.

Select one or more missions/observatories, groups of catalogs, or individual catalogs by checking the checkboxes. Links will display help in a new window. The Multiwavelength Catalogs section on this first page lists a few special "pseudo-missions". Typically, these catalogs do not have associated archival data. The Master catalog contains catalogs which have been generated by combining smaller catalogs.

There is a set of checkboxes where you can choose the types of information queried - checking these will have a filter effect on the missions and catalogs you select. For example, checking Proposal Information and ROSAT and ASCA means you are only selecting those ROSAT and ASCA tables which contain proposal information. Using these table types, you can more accurately select what types of tables you search.

Finally, you can choose to modify the defaults for the output display. You may change the number of results returned for each table, change the output format, and choose to show all fields in the results rather than the default fields.

Click Start Search if you're ready to search, or More Options if you'd like to choose the tables to query within each mission, or if you want to query tables on parameters other than position or observation date.

Selecting the Catalogs to Query

NOTE: If you have initiated the search from the first page, this page will not be displayed.

The top of the Catalog Selections page contains links to the selected missions. Each of these mission links will take you to a page which displays some description of all the catalogs available for the mission.

This page displays the catalogs available for the selected missions. Each row in the tables tells you the catalog name, description, whether the catalog contains archive data, the default search radius, the name of the mission to which the table belongs, and the type of information contained in the table (Object catalog, observation catalog, proposal information, etc). When this page first comes up, the catalogs are ordered by priority so that more important tables appear first. You can sort these tables by other parameters by clicking on the up and down arrows beside each column name.

This page requires you to check the catalogs you want to query and then click on Submit Search or Specify Additional Parameters buttons. The Submit Search button will run a search on the position or date you specify. Clicking on Specify Additional Parameters will allow you to search on other parameters.

Object Name/Coordinates Search


Explanation of Name/Coordinates Input Formats

Example coordinate inputs:
  • 12 00 00, 4 12 6
  • 180., 4.21
  • 12 14.2 -4 12 6.48
  • 0., 0.
Example name inputs:
  • Cygnus X-1
  • Eta Car
  • Ar Lac
  • A2156
  • Sco X-1

By default, the coordinates you input are assumed to be J2000 equatorial coordinates. You may change this by choosing a different coordinate system or equinox.

The object name or position may be entered in a number of different formats. If an object name (i.e., any entry containing characters other than decimal digits, spaces, and '.', '-', or '+') is entered, then the name will be resolved to coordinates using one of the supported name resolving services.

Object names should conform to the established IAU specifications for designating astronomical radiation sources. There is a nomenclature dictionary for celestial objects that can be searched if you are unsure of the object name that you should be using.

Coordinates must be separated by a comma or by either a plus or minus sign. If a coordinate consists of a single number which contains a decimal point, then that coordinate is taken to be given in decimal degrees; otherwise, the sexagesimal format is assumed and the coordinate is parsed accordingly. Galactic coordinates are always assumed to be in degrees, whether in sexagesimal or decimal format. If equatorial coordinates are entered in sexagesimal format, right ascension values are assumed to be in hours/minutes/seconds, and declination values are assumed to be in degrees/minutes/seconds. Spaces should be used to separate hours/degrees from minutes and minutes from seconds in sexagesimal format. Seconds values are optional in sexagesimal format, so if you only want to specify hours/minutes and/or degrees/minutes that is allowed. The minutes can even be decimal minutes if so desired. Since it is impossible to determine whether a lone integer right ascension value is in hours or degrees and to prevent confusion, typing a lone integer coordinate value is considered invalid. This means, for example, if you want to do a search for objects near 0 hours right ascension and 0 degrees declination, then you should enter either "0.,0." (the decimal points flag the input as decimal degrees) or "00 00 00, 00 00 00" (if sexagesimal input is preferred). Entering simply "0,0" is considered an error.

Searching for Multiple Objects and/or Coordinate Pairs

Browse can perform name/coordinate cone searches on multiple object names and/or coordinate pairs in a single query submission. Separate each entry with a semicolon.

Example of multiple name/coordinate inputs:

The only limit on the number of name/coordinates that you can search for in this manner is determined by your browser. Depending upon your browser, the limit on the size of the name/coordinates entry string can be on the order of hundreds of characters or even thousands.

Uploading a Local File of Objects and/or Coordinate Pairs for Your Search

Browse can perform name/coordinate cone searches on multiple object names and/or coordinate pairs that are read from a file on the user's system. The file should contain object names and coordinate pairs one or more per line. If more than one per line, names and/or coodinate pairs should be separated by a semicolon.

Files created by clicking the Save all Targets to File button on the Results page can also be used for the file upload option. This option saves all objects in all tables to a local file on the user's system. The format of this file is the same as the Pure Text Format under the Redisplay option.

Choosing a Name Resolver

If you enter an object name, that object name is resolved into a pair of coordinates. When specifying particular tables to search, and/or additional parameters to query, you can select to use the SIMBAD or NED name resolving services. In general, SIMBAD is preferred for galactic sources. The default behavior of Browse is to query SIMBAD first, and if the object name is not resolved, then SIMBAD is queried.

Specifying Observation Dates

You may query by observation dates. Not every table is queryable by date, for example the object catalogs do not have dates. In the tables of results that are returned, the observation date column may have different names - typical labels include 'start date', 'start time', 'time', 'begin date', etc.

The general format for the observation date is YYYY-MM-DD hh:mm:ss, where the hh:mm:ss is optional. MJD is also accepted. Multiple dates are allowed - separate each date with a semicolon. Ranges can be specified using the '..' syntax shown below. If a range is not given, the range is assumed to be +/- 1 day around the date given.

Example of date/time inputs:

Other Search Options

You may optionally choose the coordinate system/equinox that you wish to use in the search. The search results are displayed in the coordinate system and equinox that you choose.

You can also choose the radius for the database search. Each catalog has a default radius which is displayed in units of arcminutes in the list of catalogs. If you wish to override these defaults, then use the Search Radius menu to select the value you want. In this case the same radius will be used for all selected catalogs.

You may limit the number of displayed results by choosing the result limit from the menu.

You can choose to display the output in HTML tables (the default), plain text tables (displays faster, and can be imported more easily into other programs), FITS tables (can be analyzed using standard FITS tools like FTOOLS), or astrores XML format (contains both the data and the metadata, useful for reading by other applications).

Normally the results of a query have only the most significant columns displayed. If you want to see every column in the results, check the Show all Fields box.

Cone Search Offset Calculation

Browse will calculate the distance from the center of the search cone specified by the Object Name/Coordinates Search criterion to the coordinates of each observation in the Query Results output. Browse places these calculated values in a pseudo-column with the name 'Offset' in the query results. These values have units of arc-minutes. The Haversine formula is used to compute the offsets.

Search Using Previously Saved Query

A previously stored query can be used for a Browse search. When results are displayed after a Browse search. a Save Query To File button may appear on the Results page. Clicking on this button will store the query in an encoded form in a file on your system. When you are ready to reload the stored query click on the Query File And Session Uploads button on the Main Search Page. Enter the File name or Click the Browse button and the click the Load Query button. Query results will then be displayed.

Search by Parameter

A more general search on table(s) can be made by choosing Specify Additional Parameters from the Catalogs Selection page. After doing this, you will see the page that allows you to set parameter criteria.

Building a Parameter Search Query

You can build a Parameter Search query consisting of multiple criteria. The form displays all parameters present in a catalog. It also allows you to see the minimum and maximum values for each parameter. You have the option to set several criteria in order to form your own query:

Query Results

Once you have submitted a search, the database is queried to find the data which satisfy the conditions you have imposed. A Query Results form is returned with one line for each matching row in the database. If you have used the defaults and retrieved only the standard parameters then there will typically be between five and ten parameters including information such as name, observer, date of observation, position and exposure. If you selected all parameters there may dozens of parameters on a very wide form. The exact parameters will vary depending upon the catalog chosen. There is no field which is included in all catalogs, although right ascension ("ra") and declination ("dec") are usually present. To get information about a parameter click on the column headings in the form.

If you requested data from more than one catalog, you will see separate listings for each catalog you chose.

Coordinate Conversion Error

Any coordinates shown in the results table have been converted to the same format as your input coordinates. If there is an error in computing the conversion, you will see the unaltered coordinates as given in the table, and the flag "!!" which is a link to this help section. One common reason for this error is that dummy coordinates (ie '-999') may have been entered in the table to indicate that an observation was not a true data observation.

Sort Results

You can resort the query results for a table by clicking on the up and down arrows beside each column name. (VizieR tables can only be searched in one direction and will only have one arrow for each column.)

Show all columns

Clicking on the magnifying glass icon at the start of each row will show you all the parameters for that row, including any that don't show up by default. For the results from VizieR queries, the icons are split - white on top and red on the bottom. Clicking on the white section will show the columns in the HEASARC format, while clicking on the red section will show the columns as VizieR formats them.

Data Products

To see what archival data products are associated with any given observation, click on the checkbox next to the entry, and then (if the option is available) choose whether you want to download a data products set (Retrieve) or get a listing of individual data products that are available for download (View). All the data sets are checked by default, if you don't want to download or list all those data sets, uncheck the ones you don't want.

The products list will show the file sizes for all the products, which may influence your decision to download them. Any GIFs included in the data sets will be shown in miniature. Click on them to get a full size image. This allows you to preview the data set before downloading.

Other Web-based Services

We provide access to other web-based services in two different places on the results page. The services we think may be requested most often can be accessed by (typically single-letter) links at the end of each line in the query result tables. These services are: The second method of accessing services is the select menu below each result table. The frequently-requested services, as well as many other services are available here. Use the checkboxes at the beginning of each result row to select rows of interest, select as many services in the select menu as you want, and click GO. A new page will be created with just the result rows of interest, with links to the services requested.

Cross-Correlation of Query Results

You may also cross correlate on query results from here. Click on the Cross-correlate button (there will be one for each table in the results). You will then see a form that sets up a cross-correlation query. Skip to the instructions for the Cross-Correlation Interface

Plotting Query Results with Java

You may plot results even if you don't have the most recent browser version. Both client-side as well as server-side plotting are supported. If you have a browser that supports Java 1.1 you can use the client-side Java applet to plot. If you have don't have a browser that supports Java 1.1, you may plot using a server-side form-based plotting interface which can create GIF images of your plot.

To begin plotting, click on the Plot button for the table you want to plot on the Results Page. If your applet does not load up, click on Java Server-Side Plotting to begin. You can choose from a variety of plot types that include scatter, histogram, cumulative histogram, aitoff projection, log/log, and semilog plots. You may also chose to sample data on another parameter.

Getting Data Products

If you chose to View data products from the Query Results form, you will be presented with the Data Products form which repeats the query result information from the previous page for the entries you selected and follows it with a list consisting of brief descriptions of each of the data products available for the selected database table entries (if any). Click on the checkbox next to the data products you wish to download, and then click on the Retrieve button. The selected products are combined into a single TAR file. The Data Retrieval page summarizes the contents of this resulting file and allows you to retrieve it directly to your system via your Web browser. The data may also be retrieved via anonymous FTP.

If you chose Retrieve on the Query Results page, you will instead go directly to the Data Retrieval page where a TAR file will be created for you to download. This option (and the View option) will only be presented if at least one of the catalogs you queried has data products sets defined. Most of the more important and new catalogs have defined data products sets, but many of the older catalogs have not yet implemented this sets feature.

Almost all astronomical data files are stored in the standard FITS file format. Most astronomical analysis packages (for example, FTOOLS) can easily read FITS file and an extensive suite of software tools for the analysis of HEASARC and other astronomical data is available.

Browse Catalog Index Interface


Getting Started

The Catalog Index Interface provides links to resources for each catalog in a mission. You can use it as a reference to find information on a particular catalog.

Mission Links

Each mission name links to the FTP area for that mission. If you want to read about a mission, you can click on the description link next to the mission name. Below the mission name line, you will see links to the various catalogs in that mission.

Catalog Links

The first link for each catalog contains its full name. If you want to search this catalog, click on this link and it will take you to a Browse Query Page.

The second link is a short name for that catalog. It links to a help page describing the catalog and its parameters.

The third link displays the number of parameters in the catalog.

The fourth link displays the number of row entries in the catalog. This link will take you to the catalog's Transportable Database Aggregate Table (TDAT) file. This file contains parameter information, metabase information and all the data contents of a particular catalog.

Browse Batch Interface


Software Installation

Please note that only Object Name/Coordinates Searches can be executed using the the batch interface. Also, in order to use the batch facility, you will need access to a Unix workstation with Perl 5.x or Perl 4.x compiled and installed on it.

You will need to download two Perl scripts:

  2. (Perl 5.x) OR (Perl 4.x)
from the HEASARC's anonymous FTP server. Once you've downloaded these files, make sure they have executable permissions and place them in your executable path. These scripts assume your system has the Perl command installed in /usr1/local/bin. If Perl has been installed elsewhere on your machine, you should edit the first line of each script to change:
#!/usr1/local/bin/perl to the correct location.

Note: These scripts are in the public domain. Please feel free to copy and modify them to use however you wish. However, we can only support the versions of the scripts that we have made available.


To use the Batch Interface, simply type at your shell prompt. Many options are available, but you are only required to specify the table to be searched and the astronomical position(s) of interest.

The syntax of the command is: table=table name

optional arguments:
position=object name or position
radius=numerical value in units of arc-minutes
fields=STANDARD or ALL
name_resolver=NED or SIMBAD
infile=input filename
outfile=output filename
All arguments are case insensitive.

Explanation of command line arguments:

This is the abbreviated or short table name as used in Browse, e.g., ABELL, XTEOBS, ROSPUBLIC. You can find these table names in the Catalog Index Interface.
This is either the name of an object or a set of coordinates to search around. If a name is given it will be resolved using the service given in the name_resolver argument or SIMBAD by default. The syntax for coordinates is the same as those supported in the Browse Web service. If the coordinates string contains embedded spaces (e.g., 12 2 3.3, -13 8 1), then this argument should be enclosed in quotes.
This should be either "Equatorial" or "Galactic". The default is Equatorial.
This defines the equinox year for both your input and and the resulting coordinates in the output. It defaults to 2000.
This gives the radius in arcminutes for which a match should be made. This defaults to 1 degree. Note that this is different from the interactive Browse system where the default differs from table to table.
indicates which parameters are to be retrieved from the table. The default, "Standard", indicates that only a preselected set of the most critical parameters will be retrieved. "All" will retrieve all parameters from the table.
may be used to select the system used to convert names into coordinates. The currently supported services are NED and SIMBAD. The default is SIMBAD.
specifies a file containing positions to be searched.
specifies a file to contain the table of returned results. If not specified the results will be printed on standard out.

You may specify the target positions using the position argument, using a predefined file specified with infile, or from the standard input. In the latter two cases each line until an EOF will be used as a position.


Are there any public ROSAT observations of 3C273?

% table=rospublic position=3c273 name_resolver=ned

should print to standard output a table like the following:

seq_id     |instrument|exposure|ra(2000)  |dec(2000)  |name              |public_date(ISO)|
RP600242   |PSPC      |    3078|12 27 43.2|+01 36 00.0|GIOVANELLI-HAYNES |      1994-03-22|
RP600242A01|PSPC      |   24830|12 27 43.2|+01 36 00.0|GIOVANELLI-HAYNES |      1994-03-22|
RH120001   |HRI       |       0|12 29 04.8|+02 03 00.0|XRT/HRI NORTH DUMM|      1995-08-01|
WP141509N00|PSPC      |    3332|12 29 04.8|+02 03 00.0|3C273             |      1994-09-28|
RP120000N00|PSPC      |     916|12 29 04.8|+02 03 00.0|XRT/PSPC NORTH DUM|      1995-01-31|
WF700191   |PSPC      |    3291|12 29 04.8|+02 03 00.0|3C273             |      1996-02-07|
WP700191   |PSPC      |    6243|12 29 04.8|+02 03 00.0|3C273             |      1996-02-07|
RP141520N00|PSPC      |     485|12 29 04.8|+02 03 00.0|3C273             |      1995-09-27|
WH700234   |HRI       |   17174|12 29 07.2|+02 03 00.0|3C 273            |      1993-07-20|
Search of table ROSPUBLIC around '3c273' with a radius 60' returns 25 rows

I might first do a query of all WGACAT sources within 80' of the galactic center using:

% table=wgacat radius=80 coordinates=galactic position='0.,0.' outfile=wgacat_gc.list

The results of that query can be edited (manually or by a simple script) to produce at file like:

359.386118, 1.149945
359.510470, 1.223261
359.274779, 0.933392
359.279818, 0.934399
359.383583, 0.977861
359.389096, 0.979161
359.392070, 0.972419
359.292038, 0.907242
359.389873, 0.967603
359.390891, 0.967811
359.393223, 0.969269
plus 340 more lines.

If this result is stored as wgacat_galcen.dat, we can find nearby HST Guide Star Catalog positions with: table=gsc coordinates=galactic infile=wgacat_galcen.dat outfile=wgacat_galcen_guidestars.dat
It will take a while to process 350 targets...

If you have questions concerning the installation or usage of these scripts please contact the HEASARC.