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Real-time colouring and filtering with graphics shaders

Dany Vohl, Christopher J. Fluke, David G. Barnes, Amr H. Hassan
Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology, 1 Alfred Street, Hawthorn 3122, Australia
arXiv:1707.00442 [astro-ph.IM], (3 Jul 2017)

@article{vohl2017realtime,

   title={Real-time colouring and filtering with graphics shaders},

   author={Vohl, Dany and Fluke, Christopher J. and Barnes, David G. and Hassan, Amr H.},

   year={2017},

   month={jul},

   archivePrefix={"arXiv"},

   primaryClass={astro-ph.IM},

   doi={10.1093/mnras/stx1676}

}

Despite the popularity of the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) for general purpose computing, one should not forget about the practicality of the GPU for fast scientific visualisation. As astronomers have increasing access to three dimensional (3D) data from instruments and facilities like integral field units and radio interferometers, visualisation techniques such as volume rendering offer means to quickly explore spectral cubes as a whole. As most 3D visualisation techniques have been developed in fields of research like medical imaging and fluid dynamics, many transfer functions are not optimal for astronomical data. We demonstrate how transfer functions and graphics shaders can be exploited to provide new astronomy-specific explorative colouring methods. We present 12 shaders, including four novel transfer functions specifically designed to produce intuitive and informative 3D visualisations of spectral cube data. We compare their utility to classic colour mapping. The remaining shaders highlight how common computation like filtering, smoothing and line ratio algorithms can be integrated as part of the graphics pipeline. We discuss how this can be achieved by utilising the parallelism of modern GPUs along with a shading language, letting astronomers apply these new techniques at interactive frame rates. All shaders investigated in this work are included in the open source software shwirl (Vohl, 2017).
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