Literature searching

From CoolWiki
Revision as of 23:16, 27 July 2020 by Rebull (talk | contribs)
Jump to navigationJump to search

How can I find out what scientists already know about a particular astronomy topic or object?

Searching the literature is an essential part of doing research. Nearly all the astronomical literature is online at ADS ( From anywhere, you can search via the ADS form, and read abstracts and old papers. However, because the journals want you to pay for access to recent articles, you will only be able to read recent papers when you're connecting from a university internet domain such as (although your local public library might also have access).

SIMBAD ( is a slightly different database, with different strengths, weaknesses, and tools than ADS. Try searching there too; you will probably find different information than at ADS. Note that there are links between the two databases, such that you can move between them and take advantage of both resources. (Note too that SIMBAD is based in France, and thus might be down for maintenance during their evening hours -- which is our middle of the day.)

ADS will cough up abstracts to proposals, abstracts from conferences without conference proceedings, full articles from conference proceedings, and refereed journal articles. NB: that list is from least useful to most useful.

SIMBAD tabulates data, but is notoriously unreliable at doing so. Don't believe any Vmags, types, or classifications of objects you find as part of their 'basic data.' SIMBAD provides links back to articles (and the data tables therein), though, which is far more useful. In SIMBAD, you can search by position, so you can find out, e.g., what other named objects are near to a region you care about. There may be other useful papers calling objects near your targeted region by those other names, rather than the name you're using.

Screencapture tutorial on literature searching, with particular emphasis on SIMBAD-based searching, designed for the 2012 C-WAYS team, but may be of some general benefit. Nearly 10 minutes long, sorry.

Questions to think about and things to try with literature searching

Try these examples below to be sure you understand how to use this form. All of these are relevant to the IC 2118 project, but similar searches can be done for any topic.

  • Find all papers by Luisa Rebull, or another astronomer friend. Which are refereed, and which are conference proceedings?
  • Find all papers involving a target of choice, say, IC 2118. What is the most recent one?
  • Find all the previously known objects in a region of your choice, say IC 2118 (probably easiest to do in SIMBAD). Experiment with searching by name and searching by position. Do you get different results for your object of choice?
  • Find the paper with the following reference: Rebull et al., 2008, ApJ, 681, 1484
  • How many papers have Luisa Rebull, Varoujan Gorjian, or any other mentor scientist you know published? How many refereed articles has he or she published?

More advanced literature searching

While all astronomy journals appear electronically as well in hard copy, most astronomers find that waiting for the hard-copy or even electronic journals takes too long. "astro-ph" is the astronomical component of a preprint service on which astronomers post their manuscripts. (There are other components for, e.g., high-energy physics or mathematics.) Some people post their articles as soon as they submit them; others wait until they are accepted to the journal before posting. Some people even solely post to astro-ph, and the article never appears in a journal or conference proceeding. The information about whether or not the article is accepted for publication is supposed to appear in the information posted to astro-ph.

The articles as they appear on astro-ph are not necessarily formatted just like the journal, and there is professional editing that (usually) gets done in addition to the typesetting before it appears in the journal, but the content is all there. Sometimes the figures get degraded in resolution for astro-ph too, but again, all the text content is there.

ADS will let you search astro-ph as well as the journals, and also cross-references it. So, if you search on a relatively recent article, and you don't have access to the full journal through your school or library, look near the top of the page that ADS returns. There may very well be a link to "arXiv e-print (arXiv:astro-phxx/xxxx)", which will take you directly to the astro-ph posting for that article. This is a nice way to get access to the information without requiring a journal subscription! Welcome to academic freedom of information transfer. :)

More advanced questions to think about and things to try with literature searching

  • Find a recent paper that uses IRAC and/or MIPS data to study a star forming region in our Galaxy.
    • What region are they studying? What did they learn?
  • Find a recent paper by Luisa Rebull or Varoujan Gorjian or any other mentor astronomer you know. What is it about?
    • Can you find one where more than one of your mentor astronomer friends are both co-authors of the same paper? No guarantees that you will -- we span a broad range of interests! If you find one, what is it about?
  • Bonus question: Find a paper on any subject of interest to you published in a journal, this month. What is it about?
  • Bonus question: Find a paper on any subject of interest to you posted to the web, this week. What is it about? (Hint: the very most recent things aren't in the journals yet. ADS will let you search "arXiv e-prints", which links to this archive.)