The Virtual Observatory (VO) is an international astronomical community-based initiative. It aims to allow global electronic access to astronomical data archives from space and ground-based observatories. It is a collection of tools for accessing and visualizing multi-wavelength data that collectively provide a scientific environment, rather than a physical observatory. A vast array of astronomical data-sets are already available at all wavelengths and many more are on the way. Amongst the largest will be SKA at radio wavelengths and the Large Scale Synoptic Survey Telescope at optical wavelengths. These very large databases will be archived and, through the VO, made accessible in a systematic and uniform manner to realise the full potential of the existing and future observing facilities.
The VO enables astronomers to work just as well in a small rural university, or even at home, as in an international observatory or large research university – provided they have access to the Internet and a very good scientific education. It also adds value to expensive infrastructure by allowing data to be used and reused many times.
The International Virtual Observatory Alliance (IVOA) is an organisation that debates and agrees the technical standards that are needed to make the VO possible. It also acts as a focus for VO aspirations, a framework for discussing and sharing VO ideas and technology, and as a body for promoting and publicising the VO.
The semi-annual IVOA “Interop” Meetings provide a venue for discussion and development of virtual observatory standards and VO-based applications. These meetings are open to those with an interest in utilizing the VO infrastructure and tools in support of observatory operations and/or astronomical research.
The IVOA Northern Spring 2016 Interoperability Meeting will be held at the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study (STIAS), near Cape Town from 8-13 May 2016. The meeting is being organised by the South African Astroinformatics Alliance (SA3) .