The top 50 astronomy keywords of all time

In a previous post I took a look at the collaboration numbers among astronomers, and verified that groups of more than five coauthors have become prevalent in the last five years or so. A natural question that arises from this is “What are the most popular topics in astronomy publications?”.

To answer this question, one can look for the “Keywords” section that appears in most “recent” (i.e., from 1970 onwards) astronomy papers, and count the number of actual keywords listed. Once again, the NASA ADS Astronomy Abstract Service proves invaluable for this task. So without further ado, here are the results:

mostFreqKWThese keywords correspond to refereed articles only, and they have all been converted to lower case. The search gave 128, 394 different keywords. The 3 least-frequent keywords were “zz ceti”, “zz psc” and “zz uma”, with only one instance each. The keyword “dark energy” was number 311 in the list, “mars” was number 881, and  “extrasolar planets” was number 1,410.

It is also interesting to look at the frequency of keywords over time. I picked four keywords (“stars: atmospheres”, “brown dwarfs”, “gamma rays: observations”, and “astrochemistry”), and plotted their available yearly counts since 1990. I did this for each of three journals: The Astrophysical Journal (ApJ, shown in red below), Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS, blue), and Astronomy & Astrophysics (A & A, green). I also included the yearly counts for all the journals combined (shown in black):

fourkeysCan you explain the two peaks in the black curve for “gamma rays: observations”?

Check out this cool interactive website built by Stefano Meschiari, in which you can choose a keyword and see its behavior in time.

4 thoughts on “The top 50 astronomy keywords of all time

  1. The first peak in gamma rays must be due to EGRET excess in the Inner Galaxy region, and the second one due to Fermi-LAT team don’t finding this excess in its data.

  2. I’d hypothesize that the two gamma-ray peaks might be attributable to publications produced from the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory (CGRO) and the Fermi Gamma-ray space telescope. The gradual rise from 2002 might be a result of the launch of the INTEGRAL and Swift missions.

  3. Honestly I do not believe that the Gamma ray plot reflects the reality. Probably it is a selection effect, due to several possible key-words like also “Gamma rays: general” or others. Without explicitly checking I am very sure that there have been more than ~10 papers per year after 2010 publishing gamma-ray observations in the mentioned journals. (With: Fermi and Agile as current space missions, MAGIC, and H.E.S.S. and VERITAS as operating IACT’s as well as several projects in the design phase I am very sure that there is a very strange selection effect at work….)
    I used the above link to the interactive page but the only similar key-word I could find was “Gamma” which gives a very different picture….

    Therefore I conclude that the plot “double-peak” plot is not reliable and strongly affected by systematic effects.

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