What is the NVO?
See also Frequently Asked Questions.
The NVO is the National Virtual Observatory, the US-based Virtual Observatory project that is collaborating with the International Virtual Observatory Alliance (IVOA) to make it possible for astronomical researchers to find, retrieve, and analyze astronomical data from ground- and space-based telescopes worldwide.
The origin of the NVO can be traced to the establishment in the early 1990s of wavelength-oriented science archive centers for NASA mission datasets. These were the first comprehensive astronomy archive facilities having a close connection between data and expertise in calibrating and using the data. Also, during the 1990s several large-scale digital sky surveys were begun, most notably the Sloan and 2MASS surveys. The images and source catalogs derived from these surveys demonstrated the value of homogeneous, on-line datasets. In April 1999, the concept for a "National Virtual Observatory" arose at a meeting of the Decadal Survey Panel on Theory, Computation, and Data Discovery. In the following two years, a series of workshops and conferences were held to flesh out the concept of the VO. In September 2001, NSF's Information Technology Research program awarded $10M to a 17-organization collaboration led by Alex Szalay (JHU) and Paul Messina (Caltech) to build the infrastructure for the VO. Both the US NVO project and the Astrophysical Virtual Observatory, the European pilot VO effort, released their first science prototypes in January 2003.
The National Academy of Sciences Decadal Survey, "Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium", ranked the VO as first priority for small ($100M over ten years) projects:
Several small initiatives recommended by the committee span both ground and space. The first among them--the National Virtual Observatory (NVO)--is the committee’s top priority among the small initiatives. The NVO will provide a "virtual sky" based on the enormous data sets being created now and the even larger ones proposed for the future. It will enable a new mode of research for professional astronomers and will provide to the public an unparalleled opportunity for education and discovery. (Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, p.14)
The VO will enable a new way of doing astronomy, moving from an era of observations of small, carefully selected samples of objects in one or a few wavelength bands, to the use of multi-wavelength data for millions, if not billions of objects. Such datasets will allow researchers to discover subtle but significant patterns in statistically rich and unbiased databases, and to understand complex astrophysical systems through the comparison of data to numerical simulations. The VO will provide simultaneous access to multi-wavelength archives and advanced visualization and statistical analysis tools.
The Virtual Observatory comes about now as a result of the convergence of research interests (multiwavelength astrophysics, archival research, survey astronomy, and temporal astronomy) and information technology (Moore's law, digital detectors, the Internet, and data representation standards). Astronomy is well-positioned to exploit the IT revolution because of its early commitment to formatting standards (FITS), the now universal use of digital detectors, and an ever-broadening commitment to data preservation and data re-use.
The US NVO project is supported by the National Science Foundation's Information Technology Research Program under Cooperative Agreement AST-0122449 with The Johns Hopkins University.