The time domain has been identied as one of the most important areas of astronomical research for the next
decade. The Virtual Observatory is in the vanguard with dedicated tools and services that enable and facilitate
the discovery, dissemination and analysis of time domain data. These range in scope from rapid notications of
time-critical astronomical transients to annotating long-term variables with the latest modelling results. In this
paper, we will review the prior art in these areas and focus on the capabilities that the VAO is bringing to bear
in support of time domain science. In particular, we will focus on the issues involved with the heterogeneous
collections of (ancilllary) data associated with astronomical transients, and the time series characterization and
classication tools required by the next generation of sky surveys, such as LSST and SKA.
The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) site testing team are developing a suite of instruments to measure the atmospheric and optical characteristics of candidate TMT sites. Identical sets of robotically operating instruments will be placed at each candidate site. The fully developed system will comprise of a combined MASS/DIMM. a SODAR, tower mounted thermal probes and a portable DIMM. These instruments have overlapping altitude coverage and provide a measure of the C<sup>2</sup><sub>n</sub> profile from the ground up with sufficient resolution to make conclusions about the ground layer and high altitude turbulence characteristics. The overlapping altitude coverage is essential to ensure consistency between these very different instruments. In addition to checking for consistency in the overlap regions, procedures are being used to cross check between instruments, i.e. the calculation of the isoplanatic angle from both the MASS and DIMM and that the integrals of the C<sup>2</sup><sub>n</sub> profiles from the MASS, SODAR and 30m tower gives the same r<sub>0</sub> value as measured by the DIMM.
We discuss a variation of the traditional DIMM system in which we employ a continuous drift mode readout technique giving a maximum of nearly 300 samples per second.
Findings of our major equipment testing campaigns and first field deployment are presented that demonstrate our progress in developing a rigorous approach to site testing.
Studies of the cosmic gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and their host galaxies are now starting to provide interesting or even unique new insights in observational cosmology. Observed GRB host galaxies have a median magnitude R~25 mag, and show a range of luminosities, morphologies, and star formation rates, with a median redshift z~1. They represent a new way of identifying a population of star-forming galaxies at cosmological redshifts, which is mostly independent of the traditional selection methods. They seem to be broadly similar to the normal field galaxy populations at comparable redshifts and magnitudes, and indicate at most a mild luminosity evolution over the redshift range they probe. Studies of GRB optical afterglows seen in absorption provide a powerful new probe of the ISM in dense, central regions of their host galaxies, which is complementary to the traditional studies using QSO absorption line systems. Some GRB hosts are heavily obscured, and provide a new way to select a population of cosmological sub-mm sources. A census of detected optical tranistents may provide an important new way to constrain the total obscured fraction of star formation over the history of the universe. Finally, detection of GRB afterglows at high redshifts (z>6) may provide a unique way to probe the primordial star formation, massive IMF, early IGM, and chemical enrichment at the end of the cosmic reionization era.
The California Extremely Large Telescope, CELT, is a proposed 30-m telescope. Choosing the best possible site for CELT is essential in order to extract the best science from the observations and to reduce the complexity of the telescope. Site selection is therefore currently one of the most critical pacing items of the CELT project. In this paper, we first present selected results from a survey of the atmospheric transparency at optical and infrared wavelengths over the southwestern USA and northern Mexico using satellite data. Results of a similar study of South America have been reported elsewhere. These studies will serve as the pre-selection criterion of the sites at which we will perform on-site testing. We then describe the current status of on-site turbulence evaluation efforts and the future plans of the CELT site testing program.
The yourSky custom astronomical image mosaicking software has a Web portal architecture that allows access via ordinary desktop computers with low bandwidth network connections to high performance and highly customizable mosaicking software deployed in a high performance computing and communications environment. The emphasis is on custom access to image mosaics constructed from terabytes of raw image data stored in remote archives. In this context, custom access refers to new technology that enables on the fly mosaicking to meet user-specified criteria for region of the sky to be mosaicked, datasets to be used, resolution, coordinate system, projection, data type and image format. The yourSky server is a fully automated end-to-end system that handles all aspects of the mosaic construction. This includes management of mosaic requests, determining which input images are required to fulfill each request, management of a data cache for both input image plates and output mosaics, retrieval of input image plates from massive remote archives, image mosaic construction on a multiprocessor system, and making the result accessible to the user on the desktop. The URL for yourSky is http://yourSky.jpl.nasa.gov.
A Topic Map is a structured network of hyperlinks that points into an information pool. Topic Maps have an existence independent of the information pool and hence different Topic Maps can form different layers above the same information pool and provide us with different views of it. We explore the use of Topic Maps
with the Unified Column Descriptor (UCD) scheme developed in the frame of the ESO-CDS data mining project. UCD, with its multi-tier hierarchical structure, categorizes parameters reported in tables and catalogs. By using Topic Maps we show how columns from different catalogs with similar but not identical descriptions could be combined. A direct application for the Virtual
Observatory community is that of merging catalogs in order to generate customized views of data.
Like every other field of intellectual endeavor, astronomy is being revolutionized by the advances in information technology. There is an ongoing exponential growth in the volume, quality, and complexity of astronomical data sets, mainly through large digital sky surveys and archives. The Virtual Observatory (VO) concept represents a scientific and technological framework needed to cope with this data flood. Systematic exploration of the observable parameter spaces, covered by large digital sky surveys spanning a range of wavelengths, will be one of the primary modes of research with a VO. This is where the truly new discoveries will be made, and new insights be gained about the already known astronomical objects and phenomena. We review some of the methodological challenges posed by the analysis of large and complex data sets expected in the VO-based research. The challenges are driven both by the size and the complexity of the data sets (billions of data vectors in parameter spaces of tens or hundreds of dimensions), by the heterogeneity of the data and measurement errors, including differences in basic survey parameters for the federated data sets (e.g., in the positional accuracy and resolution, wavelength coverage, time baseline, etc), various selection effects, as well as the intrinsic clustering properties (functional form, topology) of the data distributions in the parameter spaces of observed attributes. Answering these challenges will require substantial collaborative efforts and partnerships between astronomers, computer scientists, and statisticians.
One major component of the VO will be catalogs measuring gigabytes and terrabytes if not more. Some mechanism like XML will be used for structuring the information. However, such mechanisms are not good for information retrieval on their own. For retrieval we use queries. Topic Maps that have started becoming popular recently are excellent for segregating information that results from a query. A Topic Map is a structured network of hyperlinks above an information pool. Different Topic Maps can form different layers above the same information pool and provide us with different views of it. This facilitates in being able to ask exact questions, aiding us in looking for gold needles in the proverbial haystack. Here we will discuss the specifics of what Topic Maps are and how they can be implemented within the VO framework.
Gamma-ray burst astronomy has undergone a revolution in the last three years, spurred by the discover of fading long- wavelength counterparts. We now know that at least the long duration GRBs lie at cosmological distances with estimated electromagnetic energy release of 10<SUP>51</SUP>-10<SUP>53</SUP> erg, making these the brightest explosions in the Universe. In this article we review the current observational state of the long-lived 'afterglow' emission that accompanies GRBs at X-ray, optical, and radio afterglow wavelengths. We then discuss the insights these observations have given to the progenitor population, the energetics of the GRB events, and the physics of the afterglow emission. We focus particular attention on the evidence linking GRBs to the explosion of massive stars. Throughout, we identify remaining puzzles and uncertainties, and emphasize promising observations tools for addressing them. The imminent launch of HETE-2, the increasingly sophisticated and coordinated ground-based and space-based observations, and the increasing availability of 10-m class optical telescopes have primed this field for fantastic growth.
The analysis and an efficient scientific exploration of the digital Palomar observatory sky survey represents a major technical challenge. The input data set consists of 3 Terabytes of pixel information, and contains a few billion sources. We describe some of the specific scientific problems posed by the data, including searches for distant quasars and clusters of galaxies, and the data-mining techniques we are exploring in addressing them Machine- assisted discovery methods may become essential for the analysis of such multi-Terabyte data sets. New and future approaches involve unsupervised classification and clustering analysis in the Giga-object data space, including various Bayesian techniques. In addition to the searches for known types of objects in this database, these techniques may also offer the possibility of discovering previously unknown, rare types of astronomical objects.