The Virtual Astronomical Observatory (VAO) is holding a series of community days at U.S. astronomical institutions. The community days feature two kinds of presentations:
- Members of the VAO describe the goals of the project and its services, provide demos and tutorials, answer questions and solicit feedback on how the VAO can provide the best service to the user community.
- End users describe how they are working with the VAO to meet their scientific goals, and the types of services that will be most valuable to them in the long run.
The latest community day was held at Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) at the end of November. The seven presentations can be viewed online at the STScI webcast archive. VAO Project Scientist Joe Lazio described how astronomy is becoming ever more computationally intensive, and how the VAO fits into this Brave New World by providing services that enable discovery of, and access to, massive distributed data sets; and by collaborating with projects to develop VO-compliant infrastructure and data access services. Ivo Busko and Tom Donaldson described two of the VAO’s science services: spectral fitting via the Spectral Energy Distribution Builder, Iris; and the Data Discovery Tool.
Two talks I found especially interesting concerned how the VAO is working with the astronomical community. The VAO is collaborating with a number of project listed in Lazio’s talk, and one of these is the Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS). This is an international project involving over 200 scientists in 13 countries. Its goal is ambitious: to use two cameras on the Hubble Space Telescope: the near-infrared WFC3 camera and the visible-light ACS camera to reveal new details of the distant Universe and test the reality of cosmic dark energy. Anton Koekemoer described how the VAO is helping CANDELS meet its goals and how it is providing science drivers for advanced tools. Broadly speaking, CANDELS needs a means of reporting the discovery of transient astronomical events, tools to drill down into data sets and retrieve cutouts of sources, tools to build and analyze spectral energy distributions and tools for catalog matching.
Python has become the scripting language of choice for many astronomers. Perry Greenfield described how VO capabilities are being built into AstroPy, a community project to make astronomical libraries interoperable and provide a core set of tools for astronomers to use. AstroPy includes utilities for validating VO data structures. The VAO is involved in making command-line access to VO services accessible through Python.
Take a look at these presentations if you want to get a flavor of what the VAO is doing for the astronomical community.
Disclosure: I am the Program Manager for the VAO.