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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The invisible knowledge infrastructure of astronomy: A sharper focus on blurry data

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Age-old patterns of research and publication were disrupted as scholarship moved online. Astronomy now conducts research at scales of data collection that were unforeseeable in the days of glass plates – and yet those glass plates, famously stored at CfA, remain valuable as records of irreproducible observations. Keeping digital data “alive” at scale is proving to be a complex and expensive challenge. Astronomy has built a particularly robust network of people, artifacts, and institutions for producing, exchanging, and sustaining knowledge that links publications, telescopes, digital data archives, and other scientific resources – a knowledge infrastructure. My research fellowship at CfA for October 2018 is devoted to advancing a decade-long study of astronomy data practices to ask questions about the durability and fragility of these infrastructures and the invisible work required to sustain access to data, tools, instruments, publications, documentation, and other infrastructure components. Lessons learned are expected to advance data stewardship in astronomy and other scientific domains.

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