Star Images Helping to Save Vatican Books

Staff Writer | ENews Park Forest | December 19, 2011

Antique books in the Vatican Library are being digitised to preserve them for future generations using a technique developed through ESA to store satellite images of the sky. The Library needed a way of scanning the delicate old manuscripts and storing the files so that they could still be read in hundreds of years. The answer was the special file format used by ESA for most of its scientific satellites.

In the 1970s ESA and NASA scientists developed ‘FITS’, the flexible image transport system format, stemming from radio astronomy. FITS is now used to store data from many space missions. “Any kind of data you can use for astronomy can fit inside this format,” says Pedro Osuna, Head of ESA’s scientific archives.

That made it ESA’s top choice for storing the mountains of information from almost all of the agency’s astronomy missions. The pioneering Herschel, Integral, XMM-Newton and SOHO space observatories all use it. In this digital era, finding a storage format for the ages is a big challenge facing researchers, archivists and librarians the world over. FITS is the answer...