Visual Data Exploration: How Expert Astronomers Use Flipbook-Style Visual Approaches to Understand New Data


What are the cognitive processes in play when someone uses a visualization tool to interactively explore a new dataset? Here, we focus on one particular type of visualization—the scatter plot—which, despite (or perhaps because of) its simplicity, is still one of the most frequently used plot types in many dataintensive disciplines. We conducted a pilot study to investigate how expert astronomers interact with an unfamiliar dataset using a visualization tool called Filtergraph, which supports rapid and easy visualization of large datasets. We present both qualitative and quantitative results, including observations about the temporal dynamics of visual data exploration as well as interesting behavioral patterns that we saw in our participants, such as users taking “circular walks” through the data at various levels of abstraction.

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