Virtual Observatory – accessing telescopes around the world and in space
This project is about running workshops for university level students on using the Virtual Observatory (VO). The motivation is that universities all over the world can have access to the large amount of real astronomical data available, and do world class research, provided they have the skill and an internet connection. If you are interested in this project please read more and fill out our online form to register your interest.
From ancient times, people have been attracted towards the beauty of night sky making astronomy an appealing science. Astronomy allows people, especially students and teachers, to conduct various experiments/observations to understand the mysteries of the universe. In recent times, due to the development of large telescopes based on the ground and in space, and in particular the development of detectors and data acquisition techniques, there has been an astronomical data avalanche. The Virtual Observatory (VO) is an international attempt to deal with such a large surge in data volumes. A VO is a collection of inter-operating data archives and software tools which utilize the internet to form a scientific research environment in which astronomical research programs can be conducted. The VO provides tools for storage and retrieval of vast quantities of data, and for the management, analysis, visualization and “mining” of the data.
The VO initiative at South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) is a major effort to utilize the most recent advances in computer hardware and software technology to develop a new generation of data analysis, visualization and mining tools. These tools will be able to address many Terabytes of data generated by SALT and SKA. SAAO’s VO initiative has undertaken a project with the aim to provide VO enabled access to the SALT data archive (SALT-VODAS). SALT-VODAS is in its initial stages of development and consists of highly sophisticated programmes which will be executed through simple user interfaces. Using SALT-VODAS, astronomers and students across South Africa as well as the world will able to retrieve and download the SALT data which is available for public use without any cost. This adds value to science projects that are being planned by scientists with SALT. It will also help share SAAO VO expertise with future big projects such as SKA. A comprehensive list of VO-compatible applications, software and tools are available on the SAAO VO web page which also keeps a local copy of all tools so that it can be downloaded easily. The VO-News service of SAAO VO provides a regular update on existing VO tools and latest developments in the field of astronomy with the virtual observatory.
The VO is a powerful medium of training as it brings vast astronomical resources, along with very easy to use but highly sophisticated techniques. It allows students and teachers to conduct highly informative experiments/exercises with relatively simple and inexpensive tools. The VO initiative at SAAO has started programmes to train students within the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP) and has developed several student projects (with the help from other VO projects across the globe). These projects demonstrate the latest, interesting results in astronomy and at the same time expose the students to modern developments taking place in the astronomy as well as IT domains. The projects deal with different astronomical topics ranging from our solar system to the most distant galaxies. They are developed in such a way that they can be adapted for students with different backgrounds in science. The student projects were applied at the NASSP summer school and NASSP honours course with great success. We dedicated roughly three hours during such programmes: one hour to introduce the concept of the VO and the remaining two hours to work on real astronomical problems using VO tools.
The VO project at SAAO aims to help other institutes and universities within South Africa and Africa to develop similar student projects with help from IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) hosted at SAAO. This prestigious IAU Office will be the central point globally for capacity building using astronomy and the VO could help in this campaign to develop human capacity in the field.
We intend to run a series of workshops within South Africa and Africa with the intention of providing access to the huge collection of astronomical data by making it understandable for students interested in Astronomy. Our goal is to make the VO a standard with a set of dedicated tools and exercises which teachers at the universities can use to introduce the knowledge and beauty of the sky which is hidden behind huge amounts of data.
If this project interests you at all, especially if you would like to run or host such a workshop, please fill in our online form to register your interest.