National Virtual Observatory

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The US National Virtual Observatory'-NVO- (nowadays VAO - Virtual Astronomical Observatory) was conceived to allow scientists to access data from multiple astronomical observatories, including ground and space-based facilities, through a single portal. Originally, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the information technology research that created the basic NVO infrastructure through a multi-organization collaborative effort. The NVO was more than a “digital library”; it was a vibrant, growing online research facility akin to a bricks-and-mortar observatory for professional astronomers.

National Science Foundation United States government agency

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is a United States government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. Its medical counterpart is the National Institutes of Health. With an annual budget of about US$7.8 billion, the NSF funds approximately 24% of all federally supported basic research conducted by the United States' colleges and universities. In some fields, such as mathematics, computer science, economics, and the social sciences, the NSF is the major source of federal backing.


As of October 1, 2014, funding ceased for the National Virtual Observatory (NVO) and all code and digital assets of the project were made publicly available at the VAO Closeout Repository. [1]


The NVO was conceived to allow scientists to grapple with the enormous growth in astronomical data resulting from significant advances in telescope, detector, and computer technologies. These advances have resulted in a plethora of images, other data, and catalogs. In August 2001, the NSF allocated funding for a proposal entitled "Framework for the National Virtual Observatory". The grant was approved under its Information Technology Research program (since superseded). NVO funding supported collaboration to produce a distributed computing framework for an integrated cyber infrastructure for astronomers providing seamless access to these astronomical resources.

Telescope Optical instrument that makes distant objects appear magnified

A telescope is an optical instrument that makes distant objects appear magnified by using an arrangement of lenses or curved mirrors and lenses, or various devices used to observe distant objects by their emission, absorption, or reflection of electromagnetic radiation. The first known practical telescopes were refracting telescopes invented in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 17th century, by using glass lenses. They were used for both terrestrial applications and astronomy.

Sensor converter that measures a physical quantity and converts it into a signal

In the broadest definition, a sensor is a device, module, or subsystem whose purpose is to detect events or changes in its environment and send the information to other electronics, frequently a computer processor. A sensor is always used with other electronics.

A computer is a machine that can be instructed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automatically via computer programming. Modern computers have the ability to follow generalized sets of operations, called programs. These programs enable computers to perform an extremely wide range of tasks. A "complete" computer including the hardware, the operating system, and peripheral equipment required and used for "full" operation can be referred to as a computer system. This term may as well be used for a group of computers that are connected and work together, in particular a computer network or computer cluster.

The manifestation of this infrastructure was an operational “virtual observatory” available to scientists and to the public. Investigators acquired existing astronomical data from a variety of observatory archives through “virtual instruments”, that is, computer interfaces, tools, and services. The NVO was planned and implemented in synergy with the research community, the primary users of the system. In 2007, the operational stage of the NVO began with combined funding from NSF and NASA and programmatically executed through NSF. Scientists originally accessed the NVO through the NVO website. [2]

Archive institution responsible for storing, preserving, describing, and providing access to historical records

An archive is an accumulation of historical records or the physical place they are located. Archives contain primary source documents that have accumulated over the course of an individual or organization's lifetime, and are kept to show the function of that person or organization. Professional archivists and historians generally understand archives to be records that have been naturally and necessarily generated as a product of regular legal, commercial, administrative, or social activities. They have been metaphorically defined as "the secretions of an organism", and are distinguished from documents that have been consciously written or created to communicate a particular message to posterity.

NASA space-related agency of the United States government

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.


Data in the NVO Closeout Repository are available from a variety of observatories and wavelengths, including NSF's National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), and the 2 Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS). Also found in the NVO are NASA's rich data collections including data from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and other space-based missions. The NVO Closeout Repository provides access to a variety of additional data from nearly every astronomical research facility, observatory, and telescope across the globe.

Wavelength spatial period of the wave—the distance over which the waves shape repeats, and thus the inverse of the spatial frequency

In physics, the wavelength is the spatial period of a periodic wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats. It is thus the inverse of the spatial frequency. Wavelength is usually determined by considering the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase, such as crests, troughs, or zero crossings and is a characteristic of both traveling waves and standing waves, as well as other spatial wave patterns. Wavelength is commonly designated by the Greek letter lambda (λ). The term wavelength is also sometimes applied to modulated waves, and to the sinusoidal envelopes of modulated waves or waves formed by interference of several sinusoids.

The National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) is the United States national observatory for ground-based nighttime ultraviolet-optical-infrared (OUVIR) astronomy. The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds NOAO to provide forefront astronomical research facilities for US astronomers. However, professional astronomers from any country in the world may apply to use the telescopes operated by NOAO under the NSF's "open skies" policy. Astronomers submit proposals for peer review to gain access to the telescopes which are scheduled every night of the year for observations. The combination of truly open access and the merit based science proposal process makes NOAO unique in the world.

National Radio Astronomy Observatory

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center of the United States National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc for the purpose of radio astronomy. NRAO designs, builds, and operates its own high sensitivity radio telescopes for use by scientists around the world.


The NVO development project was distributed across many institutions and includes teams at the Johns Hopkins University, California Institute of Technology, Space Telescope Science Institute, NOAO, Infrared Processing and Analysis Center, San Diego Supercomputer Center, and the Associated Universities, Inc. Affiliate organizations with participating teams include Goddard Space Flight Center, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, University of Southern California, Fermilab, United States Naval Observatory, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The NVO, a US effort, had affiliates throughout the international astronomical community including IVOA, AstroGrid (UK), Euro-VO, the Japanese VO, the Australian VO, VO India and ten other national programs.

Johns Hopkins University Private research university in Baltimore, Maryland

Johns Hopkins University is a private research university in Baltimore, Maryland. Founded in 1876, the university was named for its first benefactor, the American entrepreneur, abolitionist, and philanthropist Johns Hopkins. His $7 million bequest —of which half financed the establishment of Johns Hopkins Hospital—was the largest philanthropic gift in the history of the United States up to that time. Daniel Coit Gilman, who was inaugurated as the institution's first president on February 22, 1876, led the university to revolutionize higher education in the U.S. by integrating teaching and research. Adopting the concept of a graduate school from Germany's ancient Heidelberg University, Johns Hopkins University is considered the first research university in the United States. Over the course of several decades, the university has led all U.S. universities in annual research and development expenditures. In fiscal year 2016, Johns Hopkins spent nearly $2.5 billion on research.

California Institute of Technology private research university located in Pasadena, California

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is a private doctorate-granting research university in Pasadena, California. Known for its strength in natural science and engineering, Caltech is often ranked as one of the world's top-ten universities.

Space Telescope Science Institute Science operations center operated by NASA

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) is the science operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). STScI is located on the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus in Baltimore, Maryland and was established in 1981 as a community-based science center that is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). In addition to performing continuing science operations of HST and preparing for scientific exploration with JWST, STScI manages and operates the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST), the Data Management Center for the Kepler mission and a number of other activities benefiting from its expertise in and infrastructure for supporting the operations of space-based astronomical observatories. Most of the funding for STScI activities comes from contracts with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center but there are smaller activities funded by NASA's Ames Research Center, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the European Space Agency (ESA). The staff at STScI consists of scientists, software engineers, data management and telescope operations personnel, education and public outreach experts, and administrative and business support personnel. There are approximately 100 Ph.D. scientists working at STScI, 15 of which are ESA staff who are on assignment to the HST project. The total STScI staff consists of about 450 people.

Public Access

Along with its objective to serve the scientific community by enabling research through distributed data sources and services, the NVO served the public through educational and outreach resources on the Virtual Observatory website. [3] The modest NVO Education and Public Outreach (EPO) effort was coordinated from Space Telescope Science Institute. The NVO provided technical support for the development of educational modules integrated into partner programs. NVO EPO coordinated activities with the international communities as well.

See also

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