The EXTraS portal: hidden treasures in the sky

Daniele D’Agostino and Giuseppe La Rocca on the successes of the EXTraS project and how EGI is supporting it

Almost all astrophysical objects, from stars in the surroundings of the solar system to supermassive black holes in the nuclei of very distant galaxies, display a distinctive variability in terms of flux and spectral shape.

Most of the fluctuating phenomena have been discovered with modern soft X-ray observatories, but a huge amount of information available in data archives is still unexploited.

This is where the EXTraS project stands out. Like a treasure-hunt, EXTraS has been harvesting the unexplored information buried in the data collected by ESA’s X-ray space observatory XMM-Newton, during 16 years of observation. The results of the project, together with the new analysis software, are now released to the scientific community. The software is particularly important for enhancing the potential of discovery of the XMM-Newton mission, especially because it collects new data every day.

Another success of the EXTraS project is the resulting science gateway – or the EXTraS portal – a web platform that gives scientists the possibility to run analysis on the whole XMM-Newton science archive (XSA). The project’s ICT community was heavily involved in the development of this portal: the team focused on closing the gap between the community-specific presentation layer, the general-purpose middleware and “fabric” layers of the science gateway. As a result, the frontend of the portal was set up with PortalTS, a modern web that is based on up-to-date technologies and architectural approaches such as the use of microservices.

With regards to the compute capabilities, the EXTraS portal relies on the EGI Cloud Compute service within the virtual organisation and is freely available to all scientists. The subsequent computational infrastructure is made of four components: the EGI Applications Database (AppDB), the eToken Server, the CERN Virtual Machine File System infrastructure (CVMFS) and the cloud providers of the EGI Federation.

All the technical details of the EXTras portal architecture are presented in the project’s latest paper: A science gateway for Exploring the X-ray Transient and variable sky using EGI Federated Cloud, published in the Future Generation Computer Systems journal.

Thanks to the EXTraS project, scientists now have access to a massive discovery space which allows them to explore new questions in the astronomy and astrophysics research fields.

More information

Daniele D’Agostino is Partner and Science Gateway Manager at EXTraS.

Giuseppe La Rocca is the eToken Server Manager of the project and responsible for liaising with the cloud providers of the EGI Federation.

The EXTraS project is coordinated by Andrea De Luca.