What are the most popular packages used to create graphs for astronomy journal papers? Looking at various journals, the styles of the graphs appear to be quite uniform but I can't identify the package(s) that create them.

  • $\begingroup$ is it LaTeX publishing tool you are after? This is great, but takes a little time to handle properly. $\endgroup$
    – J. Chomel
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 8:45
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    $\begingroup$ Show us an example! Maybe you're looking for GNUPLOT? $\endgroup$
    – J. Chomel
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this has nothing to do with astronomy $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 10:44
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft -- I disagree slightly, in that it is a question about the practice of astronomy and the technical tools used. (Software is a tool in astronomy almost or just as much as telescopes are.) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft -- yes, but as a matter of scientific culture and practice, they're not "topic agnostic". SuperMongo, for instance, was created by astronomers and is used almost exclusively by astronomers. IDL originates from a context of atmospheric science, space physics, and astronomy, and has remained popular in those fields, but little used outside them, except perhaps for medical imaging. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


The most commonly used packages for generating graphics in astronomy are probably

  • IDL -- this has long been the most popular, in part because there is a lot of astronomical data reduction and analysis code written in IDL.

  • SuperMongo

  • The Python package matplotlib

The apparently uniform style you refer to is probably a historical combination of IDL and SuperMongo.

Matplotlib (and other Python packages that act as wrappers around it) is on a trajectory to displace the others; I strongly suspect it is already much more common than SuperMongo, and may be roughly as common as IDL by now.

You will sometimes see figures produced by the PLplot library as output from programs written in Fortran, C/C++, etc. Plots produced using R are also starting to appear.


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