What We Wish We'd Known: 3 Former Astronomers Turned ADS Staff Share Their Wishlists


Though the vast majority of astronomy researchers, faculty, and students worldwide use ADS on a daily or weekly basis, most stick with searching on a combination of first author name and publication year for a known paper. While this is sufficient for many research purposes, ADS is capable of a lot more! And who better to tell you what you’ve been missing out on than some of ADS’s newer employees, who were all active in astronomy research until they were hired by ADS last year?

Meet your guides:

  • Sergi Blanco Cuaresma worked as a postdoc with the Gaia mission at the Geneva Observatory and developed the iSpec framework for stellar spectroscopic analysis before joining ADS. He now focuses on microservice development for ADS.

  • Kelly Lockhart finished her PhD at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawai`i, focusing on observations of nearby galactic centers and working on the data reduction pipeline for Keck/OSIRIS. She now works on developing the ORCID system in ADS and writes for the blog and help pages.

  • Matt Templeton came to ADS via the American Association of Variable Star Observers, where he worked as a staff scientist and, later, as the Science Director, for over a decade. He now works as a curator for ADS’s bibliographic holdings and develops data ingestion pipelines for our databases.

Based on conversations between the three of us, here are some of the things we wish we’d known earlier:

  1. Start using the new ADS interface. Previous iterations of the new ADS (ADS Labs and ADS 2.0) eventually went away, which meant that time we spent learning these new interfaces often felt wasted. However, the new ADS is here to stay and is soon to be the official face of ADS when Classic ADS is retired and taken out of service next spring. ADS’s developers are spending most of their time improving it, so it’s only going to get better from here!

  2. It’s now possible to search the full text of many articles, including most recent refereed journal articles. Use the full: search tag with your search term(s) to do so. We especially wish we’d known about this when searching for papers that made use of a given telescope or instrument.

  3. A lesser-known feature of ADS is its inclusion of a wide array of document types, including ground- and space-based telescope proposals. For example, all accepted Hubble Space Telescope proposals are indexed, along with links to the data sets on MAST, if available. The proposals are searchable, too; for example, search bibstem:“HST” M31 to search for accepted HST proposals about the Andromeda Galaxy. To see which telescopes have indexed proposals, search for bibstems that contain “prop” and expand the Publications facet.

  4. Private libraries have long been available to those with ADS accounts, but they’re useful for more than just storing personal bibliographies. Private libraries are also a convenient way to bookmark papers while doing a literature search for a paper-in-progress. Once the paper draft is complete, the library can easily be exported to BibTeX or another format (including custom formats!) to include with the TeX document. BibDesk, Papers, and similar programs are convenient for assembling bibliographies on our personal computers, but an ADS library would have been much easier to share with collaborators than passing around a BibTeX file.

  5. The new ADS has full ORCID integration. This means we index and make searchable any ORCID IDs authors give to the publisher upon paper submission, allow users to attach their ORCID IDs by claiming papers, and enable searching based on ORCID IDs. This makes maintaining a personal bibliography simpler and makes it easier to find papers by authors who have common names.

  6. The metrics interface and the list of co-read articles, available in the Classic ADS but much improved in the new ADS, can help you examine a topic or paper in the context of research around it. We think these interfaces would have been useful when we were exploring the literature for new research topics.

  7. The paper network and the author network visualizations in the new ADS can be helpful for finding out more about the research and collaborators of a particular scientist. We wish we’d known about this when meeting unfamiliar colloquium speakers and other departmental visitors.

  8. Searching in the new ADS doesn’t have to be more complicated than in Classic. Search tag autocompletion in the one-box search allows quick entry of these tags; when typing a search tag such as year:, press Enter to accept the suggested autocompletion and continue typing search terms. Including search tags with your search terms can greatly increase the likelihood of receiving the expected search results. Also, the first-author caret (^) search operator still works in the new ADS. And try using the left-hand column search facets to quickly narrow search results without needing to edit the original query.

  9. We didn’t fully understand the uniqueness and longevity of ADS. Astronomy is one of only a few fields that have a dedicated, free digital library portal (others include INSPIRE, for high energy physics, and PubMed, for medical research). The Astrophysics Data System differs from other services, like Google Scholar, in that it’s curated by people, not by algorithms; it has a librarian and curators on staff who work to include all relevant material to research astronomers (and they take suggestions from the community!). ADS also has some uncommon features, like tracking citations; linking articles and proposals with data sets; and the inclusion of much of the so-called gray literature, or non-refereed conference proceedings, telescope proposals, and other works. Interestingly, ADS was one of the earliest websites on the World Wide Web, dating to February 1994, the same year Microsoft and Yahoo started their sites; fewer than 3000 websites existed at the time.

Overall, our transition from astronomers to ADS software developers has shown us that there’s a lot more than meets the eye about ADS. Spend some time exploring the ideas above and you might find some helpful new features.

And most importantly, there are real people with a longstanding interest in astronomy and in providing support for astronomical research behind the feedback email account! Please send us your bug reports and feature suggestions—we read them all and take them seriously.