And the Solar System, too

Virtual Observatory technologies are increasingly being adopted outside of “core” astronomy in the vicinity of the optical band (to which they have had, I’ll have to admit, a certain slant) . An excellent example for that trend is the Europlanet community. Their goal is to make solar system data accessible without fiddling, and they are employing a wide range of VO standards for that. At the heart of their efforts are TAP and the VO Registry.

While the usual VO client software will of course work fine with their services, they are offering a nice web-based discovery tool executing queries against an increasing number of services. Such uniform quering over many services is possible is because all of them implement TAP and host EPNcore tables. The resulting interface, also known as EPN-TAP, allows for very flexible discovery and retrieval of solar system data products, much like ObsTAP does for astronomical observations outside of the solar system.

Since quite a few EPN-TAP services are built using GAVO’s DaCHS publication suite, I was invited to this week’s VESPA implementation workshop 2017 in Graz to help the data providers set up their services.

I can’t deny that I’m somewhat excited when I see how our software is used to publish spectra of the ice blocks in Saturn’s ring taken by the lonely Cassini spacecraft still orbiting the gas giant, or data transmitted by Rosetta, now (and for who knows how long) sitting on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. There’s even an upcoming archive of solar system alerts that may, according to its builders, include events like meteor showers on Mars. I can almost hear my code whisper “I’ve archived signals of C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate”.

Even documentation can become otherworldly in this business: Already in February, DaCHS has learnt to procude GeoJSON, a format common in the GIS community and also adopted by Europlanet – planetology has lots of common ground with geoinformatics. And in the reference documentation on annotating tables to enable that, when I wrote “standards-compliant GeoJSON clients will interpret your coordinates as WGS84 on Earth if you leave [frame annotation] out”, I was severely tempted to add “which is probably not what you want” and feel like Spaceman Spiff.

Romantic space adventures aside, after this intense week, not only are there several additional or improved EPN-TAP services from places ranging from Pasadena to Villafranca to Warsaw in the pipeline, the close interaction with the data providers has also led to very significant improvements to DaCHS’ EPN-TAP support. The tutorial chapter on EPN-TAP and the reference documentation linked from there already reflect the results of this workshop. You’ll need a current DaCHS beta package for that to work, though; we expect this stuff to go into our release packages around July.

If any of the workshop participants read this: Thanks a lot for your patience with DaCHS’ sometimes somewhat cryptic diagnostics. If, on the other hand, you missed the Graz workshop and have solar system data: Please talk to us or the kind and friendly Europlanet folks – either us will be delighted to support your publication project. And perhaps we’ll meet you at the next such workshop, planned for 2018 in the Czech Republic.

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