Member of the International Virtual Observatory Alliance

Getting Started

The VO is all about making data accessible to both scientists and the general public. It is, however, also a highly complex network of computers distributed all over the planet. Thus it may seem somewhat daunting at first. On this page, we try to smooth out the rough first steps.


There are many worked-out examples of work with the VO on the net. To get an idea what the VO is, these may be good starting points:

Getting help

Still the best way to learn VO tricks is to have a VO day at your institute see VOWorkshop.VODays to find out how to get one.

Also, you can usually find some of us on #gavo on the freenode IRC network.

Locating data and services

There are of the order of 10**4 data collections and services in the VO. Clearly, it is important to have some sort of inventory. In the VO, this is called the registry. There are many interfaces to searching in that registry out there. A recommended approach for browsing the registry is the Web Interface to the Relational Registry, or short WIRR. This user interface lets you combine a number of search criteria like the waveband, the (astronomical) subject or the service type (e.g. cone search, image service, etc.) in an additive way.

For simple searches, you could also use the google-style full-text search form here:

Other interfaces include the US-VAO's Directory (google-like search for resources) and DataScope (locate resources by celestial position), as well as the Euro-VO registry that allows advanced queries using SQL.

New services are continuously being added to the VO, and existing services are being updated. To keep up to date, subscribe to the VO Fresh RSS feed. You can also follow us on Twitter.

VO Tools

While quite a bit of the VO can be used with a plain web browser, in the end tools on your desktop are more powerful or just more convient (and some of them run in your browser). Here are some of the most common VO tools -- all of them freely downloadable, many of them available in source form.

  • TOPCAT -- one of the most advanced tools to process and manipulate the VO's native data format, VOTables.
  • STILTS -- a program that lets you do about all TOPCAT does, only scriptable and from the command line.
  • Aladin -- an interactive sky atlas with advanced plotting facilities, written by the CDS. The standalone version has some significant advantages over the well-known applet (e.g., communication with other VO tools).
  • SPLAT-VO -- A graphical tool for displaying, comparing, modifying and analysing astronomical spectra stored in various data formats. The project is now being developed by GAVO. Beta versions of the most recent improvements are avilable at the GAVO SPLAT-VO project page.
  • VOSpec -- A tool to retrieve and analyze spectra, maintained by ESA
  • AstroStat -- a tool for both simple and sophisticated statistical routines on large datasets, based on the statistical computing package R.

See also the IVOA list of VO applications for scientists.

Publishing your data in the VO

Your data is too valuable to let it become forgotten -- publish it to the VO! While there is quite a bit of software that can help you set up your own VO service (see, e.g., IVOA information about how to publish your data holdings into the VO), it is probably more convenient to let us do the grunt work; this has the additional advantage that you don't need to worry about updating software, fighting bit rot, etc.

So -- send a mail to the operators of the GAVO data center at gavo @ ari . uni - heidelberg . de. Or call Markus Demleitner at ++49 6221 54 1837.

Acknowledging GAVO

We would appreciate inclusion of the following sentence in the Acknowledgements section of papers which make significant use of any of our services and softwares:

'The <name of service or software> used in this paper was constructed as part of the activities of the German Astrophysical Virtual Observatory.'