Earlier this week, I went to the AstroGrid workshop, in Oxford. AstroGrid aims to provide a Virtual Observatory (VO). In particular, it makes it possible to put together catalogues, images and various data obtained from surveys, enabling astrophysicists to do e-astronomy (not sure if that e-word actually exists). Some of the astronomy bits were beyond my understanding, but the workbench happens to work and to be clear enough for someone who's not an expert in both computers and astronomy.
Matching radio sources (obtained from radio-telescopes) with pictures (obtained from optical telescopes) appears to be easy. In fact, it's quite fun. It's also possible to incorporate the results in a variety of other astronomy tools in a few clicks.
From the technical point of view, this
Grid tool relies on Java WebStart for launching the application. This eases the deployment and requires little installation from the client point of view (apart from the Java Runtime Environment, obviously).
As most pieces of software, it's not perfect, but at least this one works; it even works well. The development team is also very keen to improve it and we had good discussions.
I also managed to raise some concern about the ivo:// URI schema, and I'm glad my comments were welcome. I think we'll have constructive discussions again around that type of issues. It seems ivo:// is not really used for protocol purposes, but mostly a means to identify resources in the IVO MySpace. This sounds very much like the LSID-related discussions about URNs, Namespaces and Registries. This document is definitely worth reading (although, to be honest, it took me a few discussions with Mark to understand it -- I still reckon new schemas are justified sometimes, when the protocol used is completely different). Anyway, the workshop was good, we had interesting discussions, and we'll continue these discussions for sure.