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Astrophysical Virtual Observatory:
Mining the Mountain of Data from Deep Space
The Universe we live in is incredibly complex. It's filled with a seemingly endless variety of things and stuff, from the smallest grains of dust to enormous galaxy clusters, strewn across an impossibly large distance. For our human imaginations, the time to travel across the Universe looks like almost forever.
Click to enlarge ESA artist concept of exploring the Universe with the Astrophysical Virtual Observatory
We've looked longingly at the heavens since the beginning of human history. In the most recent times, astronomers have used sophisticated equipment and techniques to observe our Universe. Those observations have left us with immense quantities of digital pictures and data stored in archives around the globe.
Myriad sources. When astronomers observe the Universe through a telescope, they see one or another particular view of reality. Different observers of the Universe produce different representations of its reality.
For instance, such things as stars, black holes, pulsars, quasars, galaxies and other objects strewn across deep space emit lots of energy across the electromagnetic spectrum. To gain a better understanding of the Universe, an astronomer may use a telescope with a detector sensitive to infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet light, radio waves, X-rays, or gamma rays to look at an object's emissions. MORE ABOUT ELECTROMAGNETIC SPECTRUM
What if one astronomer looks at infrared light arriving at Earth from a galaxy while another looks at X-rays being emitted from the same galaxy? Fro maximum understanding of the reality of that galaxy, astronomers need to be able to bring together all of the images and data from all wavelengths of energy and from all of the different telescopes around and above our planet.
Collating. Unfortunately, much of the mountain of accumulated data collected by different kinds of telescopes working at different geographic locations and even in outer space has not been collated. All of a sudden, there is an urgent need for the common computers and software that will allow astronomers anywhere to mine that mountain of data to learn about the cosmos and create new human knowledge.
The International AVO
Astronomy is an international science. The International Virtual Observatory Alliance (IVAO) defines data standards for global sharing of astronomy images and information.
Talk of an IVAO began in earnest at the end of 2001. Planners included the National Virtual Observatory (NVO) in the United States, Astrophysical Virtual Observatory (AVO) in Europe, and AstroGrid in the U.K.
The European Virtual Observatory expects to start operating in 2007. Its six partners are the:
- NVO is funded by the American National Science Foundation (NSF). It probably will begin operating in 2007.
- AstroGrid is a United Kingdom consortium of universities and observatories funded by that nation's Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC). AstroGrid also is a member of AVO.
- AVO is a European Commission lead by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) with funding from six partners.
The larger international effort also includes the:
- European Southern Observatory
- European Space Agency
- AstroGrid, part of the UK's E-Science program
- CNRS-supported Centre de Donnees Astronomiques de Strasbourg, University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg
- TERAPIX astronomical data centre at the Institut d'Astrophysique in Paris
- Jodrell Bank Observatory of the Victoria University of Manchester, England
- Australian Virtual Observatory
- Canadian Virtual Observatory
- Chinese Virtual Observatory
- German Virtual Observatory
- Indian Virtual Observatory
- Japanese Virtual Observatory
- Korean Virtual Observatory
- Russian Virtual Observatory
That's where the idea of a virtual observatory comes in.
Gold mine. To make sense of the ever-growing archives of data and to extract as complete a picture of the Universe as possible, astronomers need tools that will streamline the ponderous process of searching and collating.
The original astrophysical data needs to be saved in standard formats. It needs to be available via high-speed, wide-band network links reachable from any computer anywhere at any time.
In other words, there's a virtual gold mine in that mountain of unexploited data. Previously, those large collections of data have been unconnected. Networking them as a uniform digital collection will make entirely new areas of astronomical research possible.
VO Tools. When the Virtual Observatory goes online in 2007, astronomers will use it to sift through vast databanks to:
As a result, astronomers will:
- observe objects in many different virtual ways
- match up the data from different real observations
- compare real information about objects found in many different catalogues
- compare real observations made at different times
Humongous search engine. The Astrophysical Virtual Observatory will be to astronomers what Google is to general users of the Internet. A highly specialized search engine just for astronomers, AVO will place at hand an enormous library of standardized information accessible via linked data centers around the world. Without a doubt, breathtaking new discoveries will be made and the order and course of the Universe will be better understood.
- better understand the reality of the Universe
- locate new types of real objects lost in the virtual data
- spot objects that move across Earth's sky over time
- find variable stars and exploding supernovae
- combine data in new ways to make unexpected discoveries
Learn more about the Astrophysical Virtual Observatory:InternationalU.S. National Virtual Observatory NVOEurope
National Virtual Observatory NOAO NVO
Digital Sky Virtual Observatory NASA JPL
SkyView Virtual Observatory on the Net NASA GoddardEuropean Southern Observatory ESOAustralia
Space Telescope - European Coordinating Facility ST-ECF
U.K. AstroGrid Consortium
Centre de Donnees Astronomiques de Strasbourg CDS
CNRS - TERAPIX Traitement Elementaire, Reduction et Analyse des PIXels de megacam
U.K. Victoria University of Manchester UMAN-Jodrell BankThe Virtual Observatory Microsoft research paper
U.K. AstroGrid e-science initiative paper
OPTICON and the Virtual Observatory Astrophysics abstract
OPTICON Astrophysical Virtual Observatory working group U.K. AstroOpticon
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