The Australian Virtual Observatory
The Australian Virtual Observatory (AVO) will be an integral component of the International Virtual Observatory (IVO), which will link the archives of all the world's major observatories into one distributed database, with powerful tools to optimise the extraction of science from the data. As a result, data from all the world's major observatories will be available to all users, and to the public. A user can simply request some data or an image of some particular part of the sky, or perhaps the result of some operation on several data sets, and the IVO will provide the result to the user. If the data does not yet exist, the IVO may tell the user how to obtain it, or might in some cases direct a robotic telescope to obtain the data.
The Australian contribution will be in four distinct areas:
- Providing Australian data to the rest of the world, to enable the best science to be done with, and highest international visibility to be achieved by, our existing cutting-edge facilities.
- Providing Australian researchers with a data grid to optimise access to data from overseas, facilitate data mining, enable the extraction of science from disparate data sets, and compare data with theoretical models.
- Developing software, techniques, standards, formats necessary for the establishment of the IVO
- Upgrading Australian instrumentation where necessary to provide top-quality data necessary for the IVO
The concept of a Virtual Observatory is based on the fact that scientific discoveries are generated as much by use of archive data as by use of "live" observations. For example, data from the Hubble Space Telescope typically gets used four times: once by the original investigator and three times more by other astronomers accessing the HST archive. To extend this grand concept to all major observatories requires a great deal of IT development, and there is a strong effort in the US and Europe to develop this concept, funded at a level of tens of millions of dollars. Australia has some of the world's major observatories and some key expertise required to develop the IVO, and both Australian science and the Australian IT industry stands to gain from Australian involvement in the IVO. The IVO is likely to become the primary means of accessing astronomical data, with gains in productivity and cost-effectiveness of the observatories that participate in it.
We propose to set up an Australian component of the IVO which we call the "Australian Virtual Observatory", which will work closely with its counterparts in the US, Europe, and elsewhere. In collaboration with our overseas partners, we will aim to:
- Establish data standards, formats, compression techniques, protocols, for transparent access of data across the IVO.
- Develop software for pipeline processing of data from telescopes (at all wavelengths), including on-line editing and calibration. This software will be used both by observers and by archive users, with the result that raw data can be stored rather than processed data, and the most recent algorithms and calibration solutions can always be applied.
- Set up a national distributed database with adequate computing power as the prime server of leading-edge Australian data (e.g. HIPASS, 2dFGRS, 2QZ, etc.) to the world.
- Set up high-bandwidth internet links between the various data providers and users within Australia, and to our user community and other data providers overseas, to provide a data grid so that the IVO can also inter-compare and manipulate different data sets.
- Provide computing power and modelling facilities to the theoretical community, so that their models can also become an integral part of the AVO
- Extend the capabilities for visualisation and cross-comparison (including modelling) of different datasets.
- Upgrade the data-providing instruments so that the data they provide is of the best quality. An example might to automate operation of the 40-inch telescope to provide robotic operation of WIFI. Another example will be to examine the pipeline processing needs for all major facilities.
- Basic science as leading-edge customer
- Cross-fertilisation with other disciplines (bioinformatics, crystallography)
- Strengthen position of Australian astronomy on world stage
Document last modified: 5 February 2001