Astronomy has entered a new, data-rich era which needs new tools to exploit its riches.
The Virtual Observatory (VO) is the generic name for the effort led by the world's major astronomical data centers to
provide a seamless common interface to all public data. This effort includes a lot of software-standards work, invisible
to the average astronomer, to make the archives work together smoothly, as well as public portals for astronomers to
explore the data ocean - crossmatching catalogs, locating relevant images and spectra, performing preliminary
analyses, and downloading the actual data for further analysis offline.
The global VO will link the archival data sets of space and ground-based observatories, catalogs of multi-wavelength surveys,
and on-line distributed computational resources. At present the VO focusses mainly on extrasolar astronomy, although similar
efforts have been explored in solar physics and solar system research.
The CfA is involved in a number of VO-related organizations:
With National Science Foundation
(NSF) funding, the CfA is collaborating with the National (VAO) and International (IVOA) Virtual Observatory (VO)
Our current focus is the design of the software that will allow
scientists and the public to access all the participant astronomy
archives and retrieve and analyze data simply. This software will be
based on a general description of all the astronomy data, which we
call the Data Model. We expect also to coordinate the connection of the various CfA data archives to the VO
and act as a center of expertise within the CfA on VO-related matters.