The Astropy Problem
The problem of the lack of funding and support for general purpose astronomical software is a well known and frequently discussed one. However, little or nothing is being done to address it. An important reason for this is that most of the astronomical community is able to benefit – significantly – from the volunteer efforts of dozens of astronomers, most notably with the Astropy Project. Despite taking advantage of this tremendous effort, no institution feels it is their responsibility to fund Astropy or general purpose software.

I have written a paper to detail and highlight this problem and propose some solutions. The abstract is below, and the paper can be downloaded for your review here:

If you agree with and support the positions and recommendations presented in this paper, please consider co-signing. The more voices that are heard, the more this issue will be taken seriously. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at

Demitri Muna
Center For Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics
Department of Astronomy
Ohio State University


PLEASE NOTE! This is not an official paper of nor officially endorsed by the Astropy Project, rather it is a reflection of the opinions of the authors. Core members of the Astropy Project were consulted during the writing of this paper and their feedback incorporated. They are being explicitly not invited as co-authors to avoid any conflict of interest, but have no objection to anyone co-signing this paper.

Aside from suggestions and corrections from colleagues, the paper was written entirely by Demitri Muna, who takes full responsibility for any errors. The opinions of the paper are independent of Ohio State University.


2016.09.20 Edits:
* Changed line related to LSST to recognize efforts to contribute back to Astropy to read: “LSST identified a number of areas where the use of Astropy could benefit LSST’s software and where LSST could contribute code to Astropy, and made several requests and proposals for modifications to Astropy software to integrate more easily with LSSTs software (Jenness et al. 2016).”
* Updated citations for most software packages.
* Restored a line (about non-US institutions) that was accidentally deleted.

Paper Abstract
The Astropy Project is, in its own words, ‘a community effort to develop a single core package for Astronomy in Python and foster interoperability between Python astronomy packages.’ For five years this project has been managed, written, and operated as a grassroots, self-organized, almost entirely volunteer effort while the software is used by the majority of the astronomical community. Despite this, the project has always been and remains to this day effectively unfunded. Further, contributors receive little or no formal recognition for creating and supporting what is now critical software. This paper explores the problem in detail, outlines possible solutions to correct this, and presents a few suggestions on how to address the sustainability of general purpose astronomical software.
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