The national virtual observatory

TitleThe national virtual observatory
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsAckerman, MS, Hofer, EC, Hanisch, RJ
EditorOlson, GM, Zimmerman, A, Bos, N
Book TitleScientific collaboration on the Internet
PublisherMIT Press
CityCambridge, MA
Keywordsastronomy, big data, cyberinfrastructure

Like many scientific communities, the astronomy community faces a coming avalanche of data as instrumentation improves in quality as well as in its ability to integrate with computational and data resources. Unlike scientific fields that are oriented around a small number of major instruments, such as high-energy physics, astronomers use a large number of telescopes located around the world that are designed and calibrated to look at celestial objects in fundamentally different ways. Both space and terrestrial telescopes are designed to observe objects across a narrow part of the energy spectrum, typically focusing on a small part of the spectrum from the infrared to X-ray wavelengths. While each telescope has the potential to reveal and characterize new astronomical objects, even more powerful would be the ability to combine the data produced by each of these instruments to create a unified picture of the observable universe. This data fusion requires federating a large number of data sets, and developing the search and analysis routines that allow investigation across multiple wavelengths.The National Virtual Observatory (NVO) project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide the cyberinfrastructure necessary to support the federation of a large number of astronomical data sets, allowing search across multiple data sets and the development of simulations that incorporate many types of astronomical data. Through the development of tools and standardized data models, the NVO hopes to enable the combination of multiple pointed-observation telescopes and sky surveys into a large, unified data set that effectively functions as a broadband, worldwide telescope. The NVO is part of a larger effort, known as the International Virtual Observatory Alliance (IVOA), to support data federation and exchange across a number of national and regional virtual observatories.