Real-time colouring and filtering with graphics shaders

D. Vohl, C. J. Fluke, D. G. Barnes, A. H. Hassan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


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 visualization. As astronomers have increasing access to three-dimensional (3D) data from instruments and facilities like integral field units and radio interferometers, visualization techniques such as volume rendering offer means to quickly explore spectral cubes as a whole. As most 3D visualization 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 astronomyspecific explorative colouring methods. We present 12 shaders, including four novel transfer functions specifically designed to produce intuitive and informative 3D visualizations 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 utilizing 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).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3323-3346
Number of pages24
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


  • data analysis
  • imaging spectroscopy
  • image processing

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