Astrophysical Virtual Observatory keeps its promises
20th January 2003
At a meeting today with members of the press and the astronomical community the Astrophysical Virtual Observatory (AVO) prototype software was presented. The tool is the result of the first year of work from this European project funded by the European Union and six partner organizations for 5 million Euros over three years.
The AVO prototype software addresses some of the modern astronomers. hottest problems: How to browse huge sets of observations with hundreds of gigabytes of data? How to get access to data and work without having to transfer the images pixel for pixel from the data centre to the desktop computer? How to get an overview of all existing catalogues in the world that contains published measurements for your favourite objects? How in few seconds to run sophisticated analysis software on remote computers on exactly the data you want without having to send as much as a single pixel across the Internet? How to collect and structure the results of these advanced analyses and present and visualize them in a simple and quick way?
The AVO metabrowser allows "smart browsing" of huge datasets, like a form of "Astro-google" browser.
Despite being only the first prototype in a line of planned releases, the AVO software features several highly innovative solutions to the problems mentioned above - Smart browsing of huge datasets is introduced by the software's Metabrowser, which is a type of "Astro-Google" for astronomical observations, somewhat similar to the Windows file manager.
The Metabrowser uses Metadata which is one of the fastest advancing technologies within information management. Metadata is information about data, and the Metabrowser approach enables the exchange of data descriptions between computers, users and archive systems without having to send entire images back and forth for characterisation and analysis. The AVO architects participated in the invention of a common standard format for the exchange of astronomical data named VOTable. Over the past year this standard has been agreed upon internationally by several Virtual Observatory projects.
Analysis of remote data
The "Astronomical Catalogue Extractor (ACE)" tool enables the astronomer to have large datasets that conform to the Virtual Observatory standards processed by specialised computers available anywhere on the Internet. This methodology used is known as GRID, or distributed computing and frees the individual astronomer from having to move large amounts of data around or buying expensive computational hardware.
Showing the full picture
One of AVO's core components is a 'window' towards the digital Universe featuring novel and advanced visualization capabilities. This part of the tool makes it, among many other things, possible to accurately align and layer multi-wavelength images on top of each other, combine greyscale image to colour images, and it also gives access to all published information about an object with a click of the mouse (published papers, catalogues, observing logs etc).
Today's demonstrations of the prototype tool focused on a selected science case (although the tool can be applied to nearly any astronomical issue), namely "The understanding of the formation of galaxies at the earliest epochs via the study of distant, high redshift galaxies". This was one of the science drivers set forward by the AVO's Science Working Group (SWG) that consists of active scientists whom themselves are going to benefit from using AVO in their research. The AVO tool can help astronomers sift through large datasets like the GOODS data (Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey) and enable the discovery of very red and distant objects. The GOODS data are made up of multi-wavelength observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the European Southern Observatory's VLT, NASA's Chandra, the Very Large Array and many other of the largest telescopes on the Earth. The GOODS dataset is well suited for a Virtual Observatory demonstration as it a very complex dataset covering the entire range from radio to x-ray, and because it contains hundreds of Gigabytes of images and other data.
The AVO development does not stop here. In the coming years more tools and methods are being developed which will be presented to the press and the scientific community. In addition it is the intention to give the public and schools access to the wealth of information about the digital Universe through outreach and education initiatives.
More information can be found on http://www.euro-vo.org/