October 29, 2001: The National Virtual Observatory (NVO) will unite astronomical databases of many earthbound and orbital observatories, taking advantage of the latest computer technology and data storage and analysis techniques. The goal is to maximize the potential for new scientific insights from the data by making them available in an accessible, seamlessly unified form to professional researchers, amateur astronomers, and students. The new project is funded by a five- year, $10 million Information Technology Research grant from the National Science Foundation. Organizers characterize their goal as "building the framework" for the National Virtual Observatory.See the rest:
A key challenge for the NVO will be developing ways to simultaneously analyze data from several of the dozens of astronomical databases available today. Computationally, NVO will do this work through a set of approaches and techniques developed in the 1990s known as "grid" computing. Grid computing lets scientists in multiple institutions easily and rapidly share data and other problem-solving resources. One can compare the effects of this technique for users to the electronic power grids set up for large regions of the United States. Power grids gather and use resources from a variety of sources, but without the user ever being aware such gathering processes are occurring. Organizers are planning to keep the NVO "virtual"- not located in any one facility- and accessible enough for non-specialists like science teachers or students to use.
Astronomical science has formally been conducted through theoretical models as well as tested through experiments. Astronomical science also relies heavily on the use of observational tools to help answer questions. The National Virtual Observatory will address a new approach- scientific exploration through computational methods. This will not only be extremely helpful to professional astronomers but will also provide a window on the universe for students, teachers, backyard astronomers, and the interested public. The NVO will enable the public to directly explore the wealth of information from society's investment in our national research facilities.
Animation/Illustration Credit: G. Bacon and J. Gitlin (STScI/AVL)
Science Credit: A. Szalay (JHU) and P. Messina (Caltech)