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1.4. Future Directions

Astronomy finds itself at an interesting time, as several, large area, digital sky surveys are currently underway. In the future, the number of such surveys, as well as the wavelength coverage, will only continue to increase, providing temporal as well as spatial coverage of the sky. This flood of data necessitates a new approach to data handling - a virtual observatory (see Figure 1). Individual surveys are important in their own right, but the federation of multiple, cross-wavelength digital surveys provides a tremendous opportunity to truly quantify the origins of stars, galaxies and the universe itself.

Figure 1

Figure 1. A sample prototype blueprint for the system architecture of a virtual observatory, connecting the scientific users with a multitude of separate digital sky survey archives (schematically represented at the bottom of the picture). The basic task of such a system is to combine large volumes of data from different archives, e.g., through the positional matching of detected sources. Once this is achieved, various other computing services provided by such a virtual observatory may include visualisation of data, data mining, clustering analyis, etc. This system model is predicated on the universal adoption of standards dictating everything from how archives communicate with each other to how data are transferred between archives, services and users.

This future situation provides the opportunity to adopt a new research paradigm for studying the heavens, as the ability to perform cutting edge research will not be restricted to those fortunate enough to have access to the best facilities. Instead, anyone who has the diligence and ability to sift through the avalanche of data can perform novel science.

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