Approximate inference for constructing astronomical catalogs from images

The Voleon Group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


We present a new, fully generative model for constructing astronomical catalogs from optical telescope image sets. Each pixel intensity is treated as a random variable with parameters that depend on the latent properties of stars and galaxies. These latent properties are themselves modeled as random. We compare two procedures for posterior inference. One procedure is based on Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) while the other is based on variational inference (VI). The MCMC procedure excels at quantifying uncertainty, while the VI procedure is 1000 times faster. On a supercomputer, the VI procedure efficiently uses 665,000 CPU cores to construct an astronomical catalog from 50 terabytes of images in 14.6 minutes, demonstrating the scaling characteristics necessary to construct catalogs for upcoming astronomical surveys.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1884-1926
Number of pages43
JournalAnnals of Applied Statistics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Statistics, Probability and Uncertainty


  • Astronomy
  • Graphical model
  • High performance computing
  • MCMC
  • Variational inference


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