Revealing the multi-wavelength sky with AstroGrid

Issued by RAS Press Officers:

Dr Robert Massey
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 / 4582
Mobile: +44 (0)794 124 8035

Anita Heward
Tel: +44 (0)1483 420904
Mobile: +44 (0)7756 034243

Tel: +44 (0)2890 975262/975263/975264

The multi-wavelength sky is set to clear as the world's most powerful astronomical virtual observatory opens. The AstroGrid service provides the UK astronomy community unparalleled access to the wide range of multi-wavelength observations of our sky. Access to the AstroGrid service becomes available at

Andy Lawrence, Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh, and Principal Investigator of the AstroGrid consortium, will be announcing the launch of the AstroGrid service on 1 April 2008 at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2008) held at Queen's University Belfast.

Professor Lawrence comments, "The astronomer in the UK can use the AstroGrid VODesktop - a simple yet powerful desktop client - to find, analyse, and visualise a vast range of data from the world's major telescopes (e.g. the Hubble Space Telescope, the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton telescope, and so forth). AstroGrid gives the UK astronomer a powerful new IT tool to help them stay at the forefront of astronomical research, in this age of the data deluge from new telescopes and space satellites."

Behind the scenes, the AstroGrid infrastructure connects the wide variety of data and applications in use by astronomers. Additionally it gives users there their own VOSpace, a virtual storage area which they can also use to share and circulate their results.

AstroGrid is built conforming to global standards agreed by the International Virtual Observatory Alliance. This guarantees that users of AstroGrid are able to access data and applications provided by global data centres, and are able to run science work flows incorporating those data sets.

AstroGrid manages the technical complexity involved in providing authorised and reliable connections to large scale distributed computer systems. The scientist benefits from the power of grid computing, without the technology getting in the way.

AstroGrid is set to revolutionise the way in which data in astronomy is used, providing a vital new set of tools to enable the astronomers to fully exploit the wealth of new observational data available to them, in turn increasing the rate of discovery. It can be described as 'astronomy data mining 2.0'.

The idea of the Virtual Observatory is that the world's astronomical data should be transparently usable, in just the same way that the World Wide Web makes documents all over the world feel part of a single interlinked system. Just like the Web, the aim is that it should feel like all those datasets are just inside a single computer, ready to use.

University of Cambridge astronomer and AstroGrid project scientist Dr Nicholas Walton reflects on this:

"There are more and more astronomical datasets coming online every year and the risk of a 'Tower of Babel' unless we act to standardise them. Astronomers need want to do more than just look at datasets; we want our applications software to understand any data it comes across. Software as well as data should then become increasingly standardised.

At the same time as we wish the world of data to become transparent, it is becoming harder to get at the data. The volume of astronomical data is growing alarmingly quickly. While storage, CPU, and backbone Internet bandwidth are growing rapidly, the rate at which you can download data is much less impressive, and searching through a huge database on your PC can take all day. The 'download and then do it yourself' model has to change; instead data services as well as actual data will increasingly be provided by expert centres, while users find and consume these services. The AstroGrid motto is 'download the results not the data'."


AstroGrid is the UK's Virtual Observatory. It has been developed by the AstroGrid consortium, a partnership with groups from eight UK institutes: Department of Physics, University of Bristol; Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge; Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh; Centre for Astrophysics, University of Central Lancashire; Dept of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester; Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London; Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester; Space Data Division, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

The RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2008) is hosted by Queen's University Belfast. It is principally sponsored by the RAS and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). NAM 2008 is being held together with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial (MIST) spring meetings.


Astrogrid homepage

The AstroGrid home page. Image: Nicholas Walton, University of Cambridge



VODesktop screenshot

Screenshot showing VODesktop and the VOExplorer application, used to find the data that the astronomer needs. Image: Nicholas Walton, University of Cambridge


The tip of the iceburg

The tip of the iceberg – this image shows how use of the simple VODesktop client enables the astronomers to simply access a wealth of data – made accessible through the underlying AstroGrid service infrastructure (invisible to the user). Image: Nicholas Walton, University of Cambridge]


Pelican Nebula

Ground based and Hubble Space Telescope images of IC 5070 - the Pelican Nebula - a region of strong nebulosity - harbouring new stars and planets. VOExplorer was used to find data resources, then those selected transferred with a single point and click to the display tool on the user's desktop. Image: Nicholas Walton, University of Cambridge. Includes images from the Isaac Newton Group and STScI


Professor Andrew Lawrence
AstroGrid Principal Investigator
Institute for Astronomy
University of Edinburgh, UK
Tel: +44 (0)131 668 8346
Tel: +44 (0)131 668 8356 (secretary)
Fax : +44 (0)131 668 8416

Dr Nicholas Walton
AstroGrid Project Scientist
Institute of Astronomy
University of Cambridge, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1223 337503
Fax: +44 (0)1223 337523