Throughout history, astronomers have been accustomed to data falling from the sky. But our relatively newfound ability to store the sky's data in "clouds" offers us fascinating new ways to access, distribute, use, and analyze data, both in research and in education. Here we consider three interrelated questions: (1) What trends have we seen, and will soon see, in the growth of image and data collection from telescopes? (2) How might we address the growing challenge of finding the proverbial needle in the haystack of this data to facilitate scientific discovery? (3) What visualization and analytic opportunities does the future hold?
The ability to represent scientific data and concepts visually is becoming increasingly important due to the unprecedented exponential growth of computational power during the present digital age. The data sets and simulations scientists in all fields can now create are literally thousands of times as large as those created just 20 years ago. Historically successful methods for data visualization can, and should, be applied to today's huge data sets, but new approaches, also enabled by technology, are needed as well. Increasingly, "modular craftsmanship" will be applied, as relevant functionality from the graphically and technically best tools for a job are combined as-needed, without low-level programming.