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CANFAR

Canadian Advanced Network for Astronomical Research

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Exploring the universe one byte at a time.

Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Victoria


To determine the structure of the universe and our place in it, astronomers study the night sky with ever more powerful telescopes. Dozens of these telescopes positioned at different observatories around the world are combined into large arrays. The end result is thousands of images of any one section of sky.

The Canadian Advanced Network for Astronomical Research (CANFAR) powers the world’s first dedicated cloud-computing platform for astronomy. It allows scientists to combine these images with complex computer algorithms to tease out tiny astronomical details. The raw data is massive but the results are insightful; they confirm the presence of planets circling distant stars and let astronomers see back in time to the formation of the earliest galaxies.

CANFAR also lets scientists take this sophisticated astronomy data one step further with simulations about changes in the cosmos. In one example, scientists can mimic galaxy formation to see if millions of swirling stars can explain unsolved mysteries like dark matter. They can also simulate the last moments of dying stars to see how these cataclysms formed the atomic elements that make up life on earth.

CANFAR powers the world’s first dedicated cloud-computing Software Platform for astronomy.  It allows scientists to combine thousands of images of any one section of the sky with complex algorithms to tease out tiny astronomical details.  The results not only confirm the presence of planets circling distant stars, but let astronomers study the formation of the earliest galaxies and even simulate changes in the cosmos.

Worldwide leader in astronomy research

Contributions from observatories around the globe are needed for astronomy to advance, but this makes for a complicated coordination challenge with quantities of data that are impractical to contain on a single computer. CANFAR, as a software platform, helps manage this distributed “big data”, allowing scientists to focus on astronomy research instead of solving data-management nightmares.

As a result, CANFAR is at the heart of some very critical and widely referenced research, research that benefits every observational astronomer. In fact, astronomy is one of Canada’s great success stories and Canadians are recognized within the academic community as being among the leaders in this field.

Collaboration and contribution

CANFAR is the result of collaboration between the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta, and the National Research Council Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, with support from CANARIE. It builds on a previously funded CANARIE project of the same name.

This project has created a number of Research Software Services that are now available to the broader research community through the CANARIE Software Registry. They include software for managing users and groups, searching large distributed files, and importing, managing, and sharing large images.

Funding for the development of CANFAR was provided
through CANARIE’s Research Software Program.

Additional Resources

Technical specifications and CANFAR Fact Sheet
CANFAR website