The short version
The AstroDAbis project will produce a stand-off annotation service for astronomical catalogue data. It will allow users to make single-object annotations (‘object X is a quasar’) and multi-object annotations (‘object 123 in catalogue A is the same object as 456 in catalogue B’).
Astronomers are very good at sharing data, but poorer at sharing knowledge. Almost all astronomical data ends up in open archives, and access to these is being simplified by the development of the global Virtual Observatory (VO), which is defining the standards needed to turn the collection of independent archives into an interoperable federation of the world’s astronomy data resources. This is a great advance, but the fundamental problem remains that these archives contain very basic data – e.g., positions, shapes and brightnesses of celestial sources detected in an image of the sky – and all the astrophysical interpretation of that data – e.g., which source is a quasar, which a low-mass star and which an image artefact – is contained in journal papers, with very little linkage back from the literature to the original data archives. It is currently impossible for an astronomer to pose a query like “give me all sources in this data archive that have been identified as quasars” and this limits the effective exploitation of these archives, as the user of an archive has no direct means of taking advantage of the knowledge derived by its previous users.
Our project seeks to remedy this situation, through the deployment of prototype services enabling astronomers to record annotations about data stored in archives and have them published in a manner which makes them directly queryable in conjunction with those archives. This will provide a mechanism for the community to enrich existing data resources by sharing the knowledge it has derived from them in a directly usable form. We shall deploy two interfaces to the annotations, one astronomy-specific one, using existing VO protocols, and a second exploiting generic Linked Open Data (LOD) and RDF techniques. Our project will, therefore, not only yield a valuable research tool for the astronomical community, but also serve as a test case for the comparison of different approaches to this very general problem.