A Caltech Library Service

The Virtual Astronomical Observatory: Re-engineering access to astronomical data

Hanisch, R. J. and Berriman, G. B. and Lazio, T. J. W. and Bunn, S. Emery and Evans, J. and McGlynn, T. A. and Plante, R. (2015) The Virtual Astronomical Observatory: Re-engineering access to astronomical data. Astronomy and Computing, 11 . pp. 190-209. ISSN 2213-1337.

[img] PDF - Published Version
Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

[img] PDF - Submitted Version
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


The US Virtual Astronomical Observatory was a software infrastructure and development project designed both to begin the establishment of an operational Virtual Observatory (VO) and to provide the US coordination with the international VO effort. The concept of the VO is to provide the means by which an astronomer is able to discover, access, and process data seamlessly, regardless of its physical location. This paper describes the origins of the VAO, including the predecessor efforts within the US National Virtual Observatory, and summarizes its main accomplishments. These accomplishments include the development of both scripting toolkits that allow scientists to incorporate VO data directly into their reduction and analysis environments and high-level science applications for data discovery, integration, analysis, and catalog cross-comparison. Working with the international community, and based on the experience from the software development, the VAO was a major contributor to international standards within the International Virtual Observatory Alliance. The VAO also demonstrated how an operational virtual observatory could be deployed, providing a robust operational environment in which VO services worldwide were routinely checked for aliveness and compliance with international standards. Finally, the VAO engaged in community outreach, developing a comprehensive web site with on-line tutorials, announcements, links to both US and internationally developed tools and services, and exhibits and hands-on training at annual meetings of the American Astronomical Society and through summer schools and community days. All digital products of the VAO Project, including software, documentation, and tutorials, are stored in a repository for community access. The enduring legacy of the VAO is an increasing expectation that new telescopes and facilities incorporate VO capabilities during the design of their data management systems.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Paper
Berriman, G. B.0000-0001-8388-534X
Lazio, T. J. W.0000-0002-3873-5497
McGlynn, T. A.0000-0003-3973-432X
Additional Information:© 2015 Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license ( 31 October 2014, Revised 11 March 2015, Accepted 16 March 2015, Available online 23 March 2015. The VAO program would not have been possible without the financial support of the National Science Foundation (AST-0834235) and NASA (NNX13AC07G to STScI/MAST), and it was supported NASA/HEASARC. Funding at IPAC has been provided by a grant from the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, operated by the California Institute of Technology under contract to NASA. We appreciate the wise guidance of the Board of Directors of the VAO, LLC, and the VAO Science Council, and we are grateful for feedback from the astronomical community that helped us improve our science tools and infrastructure. Part of this research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Foremost, we acknowledge the dedication, commitment, and excellence of the VAO project team. We brought together the best of the best, from nine different organizations, and through pursuit of common goals created a data management infrastructure that has brought about a sea change in how we manage and share data in astronomy and that has become a model for data management in many other disciplines. We express our gratitude D. De Young (deceased, 2011 December) for his astute guidance throughout the NVO Project and in the initial phases of the VAO. This research has made use of NASA’s Astrophysics Data System Bibliographic Services.
Group:Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC)
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Subject Keywords:Catalogs; Surveys; Virtual observatory tools; Data discovery; Data access; Applications
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20150709-144113949
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:R.J. Hanisch, G.B. Berriman, T.J.W. Lazio, S. Emery Bunn, J. Evans, T.A. McGlynn, R. Plante, The Virtual Astronomical Observatory: Re-engineering access to astronomical data, Astronomy and Computing, Volume 11, Part B, June 2015, Pages 190-209, ISSN 2213-1337, (
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:58830
Deposited By: Ruth Sustaita
Deposited On:09 Jul 2015 22:51
Last Modified:09 Mar 2020 13:19

Repository Staff Only: item control page