Although you can get Sherlock from a simple pip install, it’s best to install it within a Conda environment under Anaconda. If you’re not familiar with Anaconda, you’ll find a good tutorial here to get you up and running.

Once you have Anaconda installed, go ahead and create a new Conda environment to host Sherlock:

conda create -n sherlock python=2.7 pip numpy

Now activate the environment and install sherlock:

source activate sherlock
pip install qub-sherlock

At any point in the future you can upgrade to the latest version of sherlock with the command:

pip install qub-sherlock --upgrade

If instead you want to clone the github repo and install from a local version of the code:

git clone
cd sherlock
source activate sherlock
python install


If you want to tinker with the code, then install in development mode. This means you can modify the installed code from whereever you clone the repo to:

git clone
cd sherlock
source activate sherlock
python develop

Pull requests are welcomed!

Sublime Snippets

If you use Sublime Text as your code editor, and you’re planning to develop your own python code with sherlock, you might find my Sublime Snippets useful.


Please report any issues here.

Command-Line Usage


Documentation for sherlock can be found here:

.. todo ::

    - docuument cl_utils module
    - tidy usage text

    sherlock init
    sherlock info [-s <pathToSettingsFile>]
    sherlock [-NA] dbmatch [--update] [-s <pathToSettingsFile>]
    sherlock [-bN] match -- <ra> <dec> [<pathToSettingsFile>]
    sherlock clean [-s <pathToSettingsFile>]
    sherlock wiki [-s <pathToSettingsFile>]
    sherlock import ned <ra> <dec> <radiusArcsec> [-s <pathToSettingsFile>]
    sherlock import cat <cat_name> <pathToDataFile> <cat_version> [-s <pathToSettingsFile>]
    sherlock import stream <stream_name> [-s <pathToSettingsFile>]

    init                    setup the sherlock settings file for the first time
    match                   XXXX
    dbmatch                 database match
    clean                   XXXX
    wiki                    XXXX
    import                  XXXX
    ned                     use the online NED database as the source catalogue
    cat                     import a static catalogue into the sherlock-catalogues database
    stream                  download/stream new data from a give source catalogue into the sherlock sherlock-catalogues database
    info                    print an overview of the current catalogues, views and streams in the sherlock database ready for crossmatching

    ra                      the right-ascension coordinate with which to perform a conesearch (sexegesimal or decimal degrees)
    dec                     the declination coordinate with which to perform a conesearch (sexegesimal or decimal degrees)
    radiusArcsec            radius in arcsec of the footprint to download from the online NED database
    cat_name                name of the catalogue being imported (veron|ned_d)
    stream_name             name of the stream to import into the sherlock-catalogues database (ifs)

    -N, --skipNedUpdate     do not update the NED database before classification
    -A, --skipMagUpdate     do not update the peak magnitudes and human readable text annotations of objects (can eat up some time)
    -h, --help              show this help message
    -s, --settings          the settings file
    -b, --verbose           print more details to stdout
    -l, --transientlistId   the id of the transient list to classify
    -u, --update            update the transient database with new classifications and crossmatches
    -v, --version           print the version of sherlock


Documentation for sherlock is hosted by Read the Docs (last stable version and latest version).

Sherlock Tutorial

Before you begin using sherlock you will need to populate some custom parameters within the sherlock settings file.

To setup the default settings file at ~/.config/sherlock/sherlock.yaml run the command:

sherlock init

This should create and open a new config file; follow the instructions in the file to populate the missing parameters values (usually given an XXX placeholder).


  • add tutorial

Initialisation and Setup

Populating Sherlock’s Settings File

The settings file now contains every option required to change the way the code runs, including database settings and the actual search algorithm.

Database Settings

database settings:
    static catalogues:
        db: crossmatch_catalogues
        user: pessto
        password: p355t0

        user: pessto
        password: p355t0
        db: ps13pipublic
        transient table: tcs_transient_objects
        transient query: "select id as 'id', followup_id as 'alt_id', ra_psf 'ra', dec_psf 'dec', local_designation 'name', object_classification as 'object_classification'
            from tcs_transient_objects
            where detection_list_id = 2
            and object_classification is null
            order by followup_id"
        transient id column: id
        transient classification column: object_classification

    pessto marshall:
        user: pessto
        password: p355t0
        db: pessto_marshall

The static catalogues settings are the settings for connecting to the static catalogues database. Do not edit these settings unless you know what you’re doing. If you have your RSA key on starbase, the code will setup a ssh-tunnel for you so that you can connect to this database remotely.

The transients settings are for the database you have your transients stored in. transient table is the name of the table containing your transients, transient query is the SQL query that need executed to get the following info for the transients needing classified:

  • id - the primary ID for the transient in the database
  • alt_id - human readable name (optional)
  • ra - the ra of the object
  • dec - the dec of the object
  • name - a further alt id (optional)

The transient id column is the primary ID column in the transient database and transient classification column is the column you wish to add the classification to.

The Search Algorithm

The order searches appear in the search algorithm section is the order they shall be run in the actual code:

search algorithm:
    sdss qso:
        angular radius arcsec: 2.0
        transient classification: AGN
        database table: tcs_cat_v_sdss_dr9_spect_qsos
        angular radius arcsec: 3.0
        transient classification: AGN
        database table: tcs_cat_milliquas
        angular radius arcsec: 2.0
        transient classification: AGN
        database table: tcs_veron_cat
    ned qso:
        angular radius arcsec: 2.0
        transient classification: AGN
        database table: tcs_cat_v_ned_qsos
    ned nt:
        angular radius arcsec: 3.0
        physical radius kpc: 0.5
        transient classification: NT
        database table: tcs_cat_v_ned_galaxies
    sdss spec nt:
        angular radius arcsec: 3.0
        physical radius kpc: 0.5
        transient classification: NT
        database table: tcs_cat_v_sdss_dr9_spect_galaxies
    sdss phot nt:
        angular radius arcsec: 0.5
        transient classification: NT
        database table: tcs_cat_v_sdss_dr9_galaxies_notspec

The first time you run sherlock you will be told to add your settings to the empty settings file that’s been created in yaml.

For details about all of the catalogue in the catalogues database, run:

sherlock info

Classifying Transients

A Single Transient Classification

Classifying Transients in a Transient Database

The Classification Workflow

Synonyms vs Associations

Sherlock distinguishes between what it views as transient objects synonymous with a catalogued source (the same as or very closely linked to), synonyms, and those it deems as merely associated with the catalogued source, associations.

Examples of transient-synonym matches are CVs, AGN and variable stars (VS) that match within 1-2 arcsec of their catalogue counterpart. Stretching the definition of synonym a little, Sherlock will also match transients close to the centre of galaxies as synonyms[1]. Transient-associations include those transients that are located near, but not on top of, a catalogued source. Example of these associations are ‘transients’ matching close to bright-stars and are classified as bright-star artefacts (BS) resulting from poor image subtractions near bright stars (\(~>14-16^{th}\) mag) or transients matched near to a galaxy which may be classified as supernovae (SN). By definition synonyms are a more secure match than associations.

Each search algorithm module should contain a synonym and an association key-value sets. For example here is a Guide-Star Catalogue search module:

gsc bright stars:
 angular radius arcsec: 100.0
 synonym: VS
 association: BS
 database table: tcs_view_star_guide_star_catalogue_v2_3
 bright mag column: B
 bright limit: 16.

If a transient is matched on top of a source in the GSC it’s identified as a synonym and classified as a variable star, but if it is match near to the source but not co-located if may been identified as an association and classified as a potential bright-star artefact (BS).

There’s also a top-level synonym radius arcsec parameter in the Sherlock settings file that defines the maximum transient-catalogue source separation that secures a synonym identification.

synonym radius arcsec: 0.5

Sherlock performs a two-staged catalogue match, first looking for synonym matches and then for associations. For an individual transient if a synonym match is found within the first search stage the second search stage for associations is skipped as it becomes irrelevant. For example consider the image below (transients marked in red):


The first stage search should match transients A, C and E as synonyms (NT, VS, VS), these transients are then removed from a further association search. The second stage search then flags B as associated with the large galaxy at the centre of the image and transient D as either associated with the bright-star in the bottom right corner of the image or with the galaxy in the centre.

[1]could be classified as a nuclear transient or supernova depending on search algorithm parameters

NED Stream Updater

The settings in the settings file relating to the NED stream are:

ned stream search radius arcec: 300
first pass ned search radius arcec: 240
ned stream refresh rate in days: 90

To update the NED stream, for each transient coordinates the code does a conesearch on the tcs_helper_ned_query_history table to see if a search has already been performed within the designated ned stream refresh rate in days. If a match isn’t found then NED is queried and the tcs_helper_ned_query_history is updated for the transient coordinates.

Search Algoritm

The algorithm is written and modified within the sherlock.yaml settings file. This means you can modify the algorithm without affecting anyone else’s search (as long as you are working off the different transient databases).

search algorithm:
    sdss qso:
        angular radius arcsec: 2.0
        transient classification: AGN
        database table: tcs_view_qso_sdss_spect_galaxies_qsos_dr12
        stop algorithm on match: False
        match nearest source only: False
        angular radius arcsec: 3.0
        transient classification: AGN
        database table: tcs_view_agn_milliquas_v4_5
        stop algorithm on match: False
        match nearest source only: False
        angular radius arcsec: 2.0
        transient classification: AGN
        database table: tcs_view_agn_veron_v13
        stop algorithm on match: False
        match nearest source only: False
    ned qso:
        angular radius arcsec: 2.0
        transient classification: AGN

Note, to remove a module temporarily, simply comment it out in the settings file (yaml treats lines beginning with # as comments).

Behind the scenes there are 2 types of searches performed on the catalogues.

  1. Angular Separation Search
  2. Physical Separation Search

Classification Rankings

If transients are found:

  • within 2.0 arc of source, OR
  • within 20 kpc of host galaxy AND assigned a SN classification, OR
  • within 1.2 times the semi-major axis of the host AND assigned a SN classification

they are all given the same top level ranking for classification. After this catalogue weights come into effect to determine the orders of classifications. The catalogue weights are found in the [tcs_helper_catalogue_tables_info](Crossmatch Catalogue Tables) table of the catalogues database and give an indication of the accuracy of the classifications of sources in the catalogue. For example the tcs_cat_sdss_spect_galaxies_qsos_dr12 is given a greater weight than tcs_cat_sdss_photo_stars_galaxies_dr12 as classifications of the objects based on spectral observations is more accurate than photometry alone.

Once the classifications for each individual transient are ranked, a final, ordered classification listing is given to the transient within its original database table. For example SN/VARIABLE STAR means the the transient is most likely a SN but may also be a variable star.

A transient is matched against a source in the sherlock-catalogues because it is either synonymous with a point-like catalogue source (e.g. a variable star or an AGN) or it is hosted by the catalogue source (e.g. supernova, nuclear transient).

A synonymous crossmatch is always a simple angular crossmatch with a search radius that reflects the astrometric accuracy of the RMS combined astrometric errors of the transient source location and that of the catalogue being matched against.

Sherlock’s Catalogue Database

Database Table Naming Scheme

There’s a [strict table naming syntax for the crossmatch-catalogues](Crossmatch-Catalogues Database Scheme) database to help deal with catalogue versioning (as updated versions of out sherlock-catalogues are released) and to help ease the burden of modifying crossmatch algorithms employed.

[See here for an up-to-date list of the crossmatch-catalogues](Crossmatch Catalogue Tables) and the [views](Crossmatch Catalogue Views) found on those tables.

Table Classes

There are 4 classes of tables in the crossmatch_catalogues database:

Table Type | Prefix | Notes | Example |
:———— | :———– | :———– | :———– |
Catalogue | tcs_cat | The table is named with the scheme tcs_cat_ <catalogue name> <version> | tcs_cat_ned_d_v10_2_0 |
View | tcs_view | The view is named with the scheme tcs_view_ <object type contained> <source table name> | tcs_view_galaxies_ned_d |
Helper | tcs_helper | Mostly used to store relational information, notes on database tables and book-keeper info | tcs_helper_catalogue_tables_info |
Legacy | legacy_tcs_ | Legacy tables used in previous incarnations of the transient classifier | legacy_tcs_cat_md01_chiappetti2005 |


Each catalogue is versioned by appending a version indicator to the end of the table name. There are 3 indicator types:

  1. _final to show that the catalogue is now at it’s final version and shall remain unchanged.
  2. _stream to show that the catalogue is constantly being updated
  3. _vX_X to show a version number for the catalogue, e.g. for v10.2 this would be _v10_2. We can also have data-release versions (e.g. _dr12).

Maintainance and Updates of Catalogues Database


  • write about marshall stream updates
  • write about helper table updates
  • write that some tasks need automated

There are various cron-scripts that run on PESSTO-VM03 to automate some tasks. These tasks include

  • updating of data-streams into the crossmatch-catalogues database and
  • the updates of certain helper tables in the crossmatch-catalogues database.

Currently there are scripts running every:

  • 5 mins
  • 30 mins
  • 1 hr
  • 3 hrs
  • 12 hrs
  • 24 hrs

Updating Catalogues and Adding New Catalogues to the Database


  • list current catalogue importers and how to use them
  • add tutorial about creating a new importer
  • add steps for adding a catalogue to the database and the search algorithm
  • add details about updating the column map
  • write code into to generate tables for docs and link them from here (views, tables and streams)

Using the sherlock-import command it’s possible to import and update various catalogues and data-streams including Milliquas, Veron AGN and the NED-D catalogues. [See here for details](Catalogue Importers).

sherlock-importers cat <cat_name> <pathToDataFile> <cat_version> [-s <pathToSettingsFile>]
sherlock-importers stream <stream_name> [-s <pathToSettingsFile>]

The command to import new versions of catalogues and data streams into the crossmatch_catalogues database is:

    sherlock-importers cat <cat_name> <pathToDataFile> <cat_version> [-s <pathToSettingsFile>]
    sherlock-importers stream <stream_name> [-s <pathToSettingsFile>]

For example:

> sherlock-importers cat milliquas ~/Desktop/milliquas.txt 4.5
1153111 / 1153111 milliquas data added to memory
1153111 / 1153111 rows inserted into tcs_cat_milliquas_v4_5
5694 / 5694 htmIds added to tcs_cat_milliquas_v4_5

The command currently supports imports for the following catalogues:

  • Milliquas
  • Veron AGN
  • NED-D

Using the command:

sherlock-importers stream pessto

will import all of the various data-streams added to the PESSTO marshall (ASASSN, CRTS, LSQ, PSST …).