April 1, 2008

New Site Reveals the Sky In Multi-Wavelength

The multi-wavelength sky is set to clear as the world's most powerful astronomical virtual observatory opens.  The AstroGrid service provides the UK astronomy community unparalleled access to the wide range of multi-wavelength observations of our sky.  

Andy Lawrence, Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh, and Principal Investigator of the AstroGrid consortium, will be announcing the launch of the AstroGrid service on 1 April 2008 at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2008) held at Queen's University Belfast.

Professor Lawrence comments, "The astronomer in the UK can use the AstroGrid VODesktop - a simple yet powerful desktop client - to find, analyze, and visualize a vast range of data from the world's major telescopes (e.g. the Hubble Space Telescope, the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton telescope, and so forth). AstroGrid gives the UK astronomer a powerful new IT tool to help them stay at the forefront of astronomical research, in this age of the data deluge from new telescopes and space satellites."

Behind the scenes, the AstroGrid infrastructure connects the wide variety of data and applications in use by astronomers. Additionally it gives users there their own VOSpace, a virtual storage area which they can also use to share and circulate their results.

AstroGrid is built conforming to global standards agreed by the International Virtual Observatory Alliance. This guarantees that users of AstroGrid are able to access data and applications provided by global data centers, and are able to run science work flows incorporating those data sets.

AstroGrid manages the technical complexity involved in providing authorized and reliable connections to large scale distributed computer systems.  The scientist benefits from the power of grid computing, without the technology getting in the way.

AstroGrid is set to revolutionize the way in which data in astronomy is used, providing a vital new set of tools to enable the astronomers to fully exploit the wealth of new observational data available to them, in turn increasing the rate of discovery. It can be described as "Ëœastronomy data mining 2.0'.

The idea of the Virtual Observatory is that the world's astronomical data should be transparently usable, in just the same way that the World Wide Web makes documents all over the world feel part of a single interlinked system. Just like the Web, the aim is that it should feel like all those datasets are just inside a single computer, ready to use.

University of Cambridge astronomer and AstroGrid project scientist Dr Nicholas Walton reflects on this:

"There are more and more astronomical datasets coming online every year and the risk of a "ËœTower of Babel' unless we act to standardize them. Astronomers need want to do more than just look at datasets; we want our applications software to understand any data it comes across. Software as well as data should then become increasingly standardized.

At the same time as we wish the world of data to become transparent, it is becoming harder to get at the data. The volume of astronomical data is growing alarmingly quickly. While storage, CPU, and backbone Internet bandwidth are growing rapidly, the rate at which you can download data is much less impressive, and searching through a huge database on your PC can take all day. The "download and then do it yourself" model has to change; instead data services as well as actual data will increasingly be provided by expert centers, while users find and consume these services. The AstroGrid motto is "Ëœdownload the results not the data'."


Photo Caption: The tip of the iceberg "“ this image shows how use of the simple VODesktop client enables the astronomers to simply access a wealth of data "“ made accessible through the underlying AstroGrid service infrastructure (invisible to the user). Image: Nicholas Walton, University of Cambridge

More Images:

The AstroGrid home page. Image: Nicholas Walton, University of Cambridge

Screenshot showing VODesktop and the VOExplorer application, used to find the data that the astronomer needs. Image: Nicholas Walton, University of Cambridge

Ground based and Hubble Space Telescope images of IC 5070 - the Pelican Nebula - a region of strong nebulosity - harboring new stars and planets. VOExplorer was used to find data resources, then those selected transferred with a single point and click to the display tool on the user's desktop. Image: Nicholas Walton, University of Cambridge. Includes images from the Isaac Newton Group and STScI


On the Net:


International Virtual Observatory Alliance

RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2008)