Astronomical Data and Documentation

report by the delegate of the

International Astronomical Union

to the 22nd CODATA General Assembly

(Dino, Italy, 20-21 October 2000)



The International Astronomical Union (IAU), founded in 1919, promotes and safeguards the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international co-operation. The IAU plays a key role in promoting and co-ordinating world-wide co-operation in astronomy. Over 8,300 professional astronomers are members of the IAU, 66 countries adhere to the Union. Eleven Scientific Divisions and, through them about 40 specialised Commissions cover the full spectrum of astronomy. General Assemblies, held every three years, define the IAU’s long-term policy, which is implemented by the Executive Committee. The permanent IAU secretariat is located at the Institut d’Astrophysique in Paris.

The proceedings of the IAU General Assemblies, the 23rd one held in Kyoto, Japan (18-30 August 1997) and the 24th one in Manchester, UK (7-18 August 2000) contain the most recent overall reviews of the activities of the IAU as a whole, its Divisions and Commissions. Announcements of meetings and other items of interest may be found in the IAU Information Bulletin, published twice a year, as well as in newsletters issued at irregular intervals by commissions, working groups and task groups.

Details about the organisation of the IAU and current information on its activities may be found at the Union’s web-site ( The Information Bulletins, a complete membership directory, as well as details about the Union’s Divisions and Commissions are available at this address. Other relevant WWW-addresses are given at the end of this report.

IAU commission 5: Astronomical Data and Documentation

Within the Astronomical Union this commission and its subdivisions are most concerned with the technical aspects of data handling. Working groups and task groups of IAU Commission 5 deal specifically with information handling, with data centres and networks, with technical aspects of collection, archiving, storage and dissemination of data, with designations and classification of astronomical objects, with library services, editorial policies, computer communications, ad hoc methodologies, and with various standards, reference frames, etc.. More information about the task and working groups may be found via the direct address of commission 5 ( FITS, astronomy’s Flexible Image Transport System, the major data exchange format, is controlled, maintained and updated by the Fits working group. The community benefits greatly from the maintenance of a detailed documentation of the evolving FITS standard by the NASA Office of Standards and Technology.


General developments 1998 – 2000

Even more than in the preceding period the dissemination of astronomical data and information saw a very rapid evolution: the new possibilities of the Web have been fully used in the development of electronic publishing as well as in the further deployment of on-line databases and archives. Astronomy is also in the forefront in building links between distributed, heterogeneous systems, thanks to exchange standards such as FITS for data and the Bibcode for the description of bibliographic references, shared by the community. Partnership between data providers, data centres and journal publishers contributed to the success.

The astronomical data centres extended their services in various directions. In particular, the centres tend to facilitate graphic comparison and combination of published results from astronomical observations made in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The re-use of observed data for scientific purposes other than the ones, originally envisaged by the observers, is enhanced by a slow but steady improvement of archives of observational data. Proper documentation of calibration and processing techniques are key-issues for the usefulness of these archives.

Electronic publishing in Astronomy is developing rapidly. Most of the major refereed journals produce an electronic edition in addition to the paper version. Abstracts of articles in all leading journals are available electronically. Although the electronic availability of data and information is generally considered beneficial in developed countries, these trends are observed with some concern in countries where the infrastructure is less developed.


Data Centres

Over the years the role of Astronomical Data centres has become more and more important. The international and the major national and local data centres are the repositories for thousands of catalogues of astronomical objects and for many data tables from journal articles. The collaboration between the different data centres is such that work is seldom duplicated. In order to serve different geographical communities optimally, well maintained copies of frequently requested data (like those of the Hubble Space Telescope) reside at more than one centre. Major international data centres are:

Centre de Données Strasbourg, France,

Astronomical Data Center, Maryland, USA,

Beijing Astronomical Observatory, Chinese Academy of Sciences,

Japanese Astronomical Data Center, Tokyo, Japan,

Centre of Astronomical Data (INASAN), Moscow, Russia


The CDS in Strasbourg has the longest history of these centres. For some decades its staff has maintained the database SIMBAD ( of fundamental astronomical data and bibliographical information on, generally, galactic, non-solar-system objects. The CDS also develops and maintains the VizieR catalogues browser, which provides access to more than 2,500 catalogues and to observation logs. Another CDS-tool is the ALADIN interactive sky-atlas, which allows one to overlay SIMBAD, NED, catalogues and observation-logs on images of different origins, some of which are stored at the CDS, some others in observatory archives.

The extragalactic counterpart to the CDS is NED, the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database (

The Astronomical Data Center ( at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has taken on a role that goes beyond its traditional one as an astronomical catalog server through its recent research and development efforts. The ADC has applied cutting-edge information technology such as the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) to solve astrophysics data interchange issues. These include automated data ingest, panchromatic data search, access to large databases, and development of new meta-data standards. Tools are being developed to facilitate interoperability with other astronomical data centres and resources. Together with other data centers the ADC is implementing many of the necessary components and infrastructure for a Virtual Observatory.

The ADC is one of the few international centres to provide a collection of many of its largest and most requested catalogs in the form of a CD-ROM series. These are especially useful for scientists in countries with poor network connectivity.

A number of local or national institutes host collections of catalogues or support data centres which are of great importance regionally or even world-wide. Examples are the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Ganeshkind, India, the centre at La Plata Observatory Argentina, and the Canadian Astronomical Data Centre (CADC) at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, Victoria, BC. The CADC ( is one of the world’s distribution centres for data from the Hubble Space Telescope Archive. The centre collaborates with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and Space Telescope European Coordinating Facility (ST-ECF) in maintaining the necessary software.

The addresses of all astronomical data centres may be found through the Data and Archive Centre section of Astroweb, e.g. The section ‘Summary of relevant WWW addresses’ at the end of this report lists a selection.


Archives of Observational Data

Most observatories have saved their observations for many decades. Nevertheless, few of the traditional ground-based observatories have managed to generate an archive of observations in a ready-to-use form, preferred by modern research techniques. Absence of critical information regarding the characteristics of the relevant equipment, and obsolescent or obsolete technology (e.g. in the case of photographic spectroscopy) diminished the usability of the data significantly, even when the original plates or data were stored properly. Very little of the basic operational information has been made public. Some of the major radio-observatories operating since the early seventies have done somewhat better, partly because their predominant operating modes guarantee adequate, if not necessarily optimal, calibration procedures.

The mid-eighties saw increasing efforts to incorporate strategies for the re-use of observations into telescope and instrument designs. Some of these efforts were plagued by lack of funding or enthusiasm: observers and administrators considered extracting results quickly from the data the most certain way towards continued funding. Low priority was given to preserving the data for profitable re-use at a later date. Nevertheless, these early attempts served the purpose of showing not only the use but also the practical difficulties of observatory archives.

In the past decades astronomical space missions, notably the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) and the Hubble Space Telescope, have shown by example what can and should be done to share observations more widely, thereby exploiting much more fully the information they contain. The disciplinary NASA centers successfully gather observations in different wavelength ranges, IPAC for infrared, HEASARC for high energies and STSci for optical and UV. ESA, the European Space Agency develops a database containing the ISO satellite data and in formation at Villafranca, Spain. An INTEGRAL Data Centre is being developed in Geneva, Switzerland.

Some new enterprises such as the Italian Galileo Telescope in the Canary Islands and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile are excellent examples of how data-archiving policies can be included right from the start. Improving the usefulness of archives of older observatories is also very desirable. Two, very different, initiatives are worth mentioning in this respect: (i) NASA has begun to merge its disparate data services and archives into one sytem, the Space Science Data Services; information: (ii) The IAU Working Group for Spectroscopic Data Archives is attempting to set up a project to protect and scan many of the photographic spectra in the world, giving priority to observations in which time-sensitivity is important. Efforts are currently under way to organize the digitization of selected spectrograms, and thereby to safeguard the accessibility of these valuable data for the future; information: http://herbie.ucolick.techdocs/vo.

Photometric photoelectric data have been collected for a long time and been stored in a database at the Université de Lausanne ( A database of open clusters is stored at the same institute (

Links to existing observatory archives can be found via the Data and Archive section of Astroweb at one of its WWW-addresses, e.g.



General Services

Instead of giving a full list of ways to obtain data and information in astronomy, we limit ourselves to a summary of the major entry-points to information services.

AstroWeb is a WorldWideWeb resource providing links to astronomy data and resources available on the Internet. The AstroWeb database is maintained by the members of the AstroWeb Consortium, located at seven different institutions: Centre de Données astronomiques de Strasbourg (CDS, France), La Plata Observatory (Argentina), Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories (MSSSO, Australia), National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO, VA, USA), Space Telescope European Co-ordinating Facility (ST-ECF, Germany), Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI, MD, USA) and the European Space Agency (ESA, Vilspa, Spain). The WWW-addresses providing access to the AstroWeb service are listed in a table at the end of this report.

The Star*s Family products, a collection of comprehensive directories, dictionaries, databases, regarding organisations and people in astronomy, space sciences and related fields. They are accessible via the home page of the CDS (URL: AstroWeb and the Star*s Family are often referred to as Yellow-Page Services.

Abstracts of papers may be found via the data centres or by querying the Astrophysics Data System (ADS) abstract and articles services via WWW-address: The ADS has mirror sites in Strasbourg ( and Tokyo ( For many of the abstracted papers images of the full articles are available. The ADS also supports some catalogues.

Abstracts of papers appearing in Astronomy & Astrophysics, in the Astronomy & Astrophysics Supplement Series and in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and in New Astronomy may be found through the CDS bibliographic service. The abstracts are available some weeks before publication of the articles; URL:



Meetings relevant to Astronomical Data and Information, held during the period 1997-2000 and those planned for the near future, are listed below. It is a subset of the comprehensive list of all astronomical meetings, maintained by Liz Bryson, librarian of the Canada-French-Hawaii Telescope Corporation. It may be copied from the anonymous ftp-account:, or accessed via URL:

  • Data Mining and Information Fusion (3rd ESF-CCMA workshop), (18-19 April 1997, Granada, Spain).
  • 23rd General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (18-30 August 1997, Kyoto, Japan).
  • Seventh Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems Conference (ADASS VII) (14-17 Sept. 1997, Sonthofen, Germany),

  • Converging Computing Methodologies in Astronomy Conference (17-18 Sept. 1997, Sonthofen, Germany),

  • Astrophysics with Large Databases in the Internet Age, IXth Canary Islands Winter School of Astrophysics (17-28 Nov. 1997, La Laguna, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain),

  • Library and Information Services in Astronomy III (LISA-III) (21-24 April 1998, Puerta de la Cruz, Tenerife, Spain),

  • Astrophysics and Algorithms: a DIMACS Workshop on Massive Astronomical Data Sets (6-8 May 1998, Princeton, NJ, USA),

  • Eighth Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems Conference (ADASS VIII) (1-4 November 1998, Urbana, IL, USA).
  • Treasure-Hunting in Astronomical Plate Archives (THAPA) (4 March 1999, Sonneberg, Germany).
  • Dagstuhl Seminar on Computer Science in Astronomy (8-13 August 1999, Wadern, Germany),

  • The Virtual Observatory, European Science Foundation (ESF) Exploratory Workshop (20-21 September 1999, Strasbourg, France)

  • Ninth Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems Conference (ADASS IX) (3-6 October 1999, Hawaii, USA),

  • Astronomical data acquisition, processing and storage: modern facilities, JENAM-2000 (
  • 29 May -3 June, Moscow),

  • Virtual Observatories of the Future (13 – 16 June 2000, Caltech Campus, Pasadena, CA, USA),

  • Mining the Sky (MPA/ESO/MPE Joint Astronomy Conference (31 July - 4 August 2000, Garching, Germany),

  • 24th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (7-18 August 2000, Manchester, UK), info via

  • Automated Data Analysis in Astronomy (9-12 October 2000, Pune, India),

  • Tenth Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems Conference (ADASS X) (12-15 November 2000, Boston, MA, USA),



    Many of the articles relevant to astronomical data and information handling, published during the past few years can be found in the edited volumes and conference proceedings listed below and/or in electronic form via the websites mentioned.

    • International Co-operation in Dissemination of the Astronomical Data (St. Petersburg, Russia), 1997, Baltic Astron. 6, number 2
    • Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems Conference VI (ADASS’96), 1997, Eds. G. Hunt and H.E. Payne, Astron. Soc. Pacific Conf. Series 125;

  • Fifth International Workshop "Data Analysis in Astronomy", 1997, Eds. V.di Gesu, M.J.B. Duff, A.Heck, M.C.Maccarone, L.Scarsi, H.U.Zimmermann, ‘The Science and Culture Series- Astronmy’, World Scientific Publ., Singapore
  • Reports on Astronomy XXIIIA, (part of the Proceedings of the XXIIIrd General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union), 1997, Ed. I. Appenzeller, Kluwer Acad. Publishers, Dordrecht, Netherlands, ISBN 0-7923-4651-3
  • From Information Fusion to Data Mining (ESF-CCMA 3rd workshop, Granada, Spain), 1997, Eds. R.Molina, F.Murtagh and A.Heck, Vistas in Astronomy 41, part 3
  • Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems Conference VII (ADASS’97), 1998, Eds. R. Albrecht, R.N. Hook, H.A. Bushouse, Astron. Soc. Pacific Conf. Series 145; ISBN 1-886733-65-1
  • Advanced Techniques and Methods for Astronomical Information Handling (Proceedings of the ESF-CCMA Conference, Sonthofen, Germany), 1998, Eds. M.C. Maccarone, F. Murtagh, M.Kurtz and A.Bijaoui, Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur - B.P.4229 06304 Cedex 4 (France), also available via WWW:

  • Library and Informaton Services in Astronomy III (LISA-III), Eds. U. Grothkopf, H. Andernach, S. Stevens-Rayburn, M. Gomez, proceeding of a conference held at Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, Spain, 1998, Astron. Soc. Pacific Conf. Series 153, ISBN 1-886733-73-2
  • Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems Conference VIII (ADASS’98), 1998, Eds. D.M. Mehringer, R.L. Plante, D.A. Roberts, Astron. Soc. Pacific Conf. Series 172; ISBN 1-886733-94-5
  • Highlights of Astronomy, Volume 11A+B (as presented at the XXIIIrd IAU General Assembly, Kyoto, Japan August 18-30, 1997), 1999, Ed. Johannes Andersen, Kluwer Acad. Publishers, Dordrecht, Netherlands, ISBN 0-7923-5619-9 (0-7923-5617-9)
  • Transactions of the IAU, Volume XXIIIB (proceedings of the Twenty-Third General Assembly, Kyoto Japan, August 19-30, 1997), 1999, Ed. Johannes Andersen, Kluwer Acad. Publishers, Dordrecht, Netherlands, ISBN 0-7923-5588-1
  • StarGuides 1999 – A directory of astronomy, space sciences and related organisations of the world, A. Heck, CDS Spec. Publ. – ISBN 2-908064-29-4
  • StarWorlds – Web equivalent of Starguides:

  • StarBits – Web - A dictionary of abbreviations, acronyms, and symbols in astronomy, space sciences and fields, A. Heck:

  • StarHeads - A database of astronomers’ Web pages:

  • Internet Resources for Professional Astronomy,
  • 1999, Eds M.Kidger, I.Pérez-Fournon, F. Sánchez, lecture Notes of "Astrophysics with Large Databases in the Internet Age", IXth Canary Islands Winter School of Astrophysics, (1997), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-66308-3. Also: IAC Noticias:

  • Reports on Astronomy XXIVA, (part of the Proceedings of the XXIVth General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union), 2000, Ed. J. Andersen, Astr. Soc. Pacific, Provo – ISBN 1-58381-035-8
  • Summary of relevant WWW addresses

    International Astronomical Union

    IAU general info, Bulletins, membership, etc

    Comm. 5, task-& working groups

    IAU task-group on astronomical designations

    IAU FITS working group

    AstroWeb (information on astronomical resources, etc.)

    CDS, Strasbourg, France


    ST-ECF, Germany

    StScI, USA

    La Plata Observatory, Argentina

    ESA, Vilspa, Spain



    Data Centres (catalogs, databases, archives, bibliography, etc.)

    Centre de Données Strasbourg

    Astronomical Data Center, USA

    Bejing Astronomical Observatory

    Japanese Astronomical Data Center

    Center of Astronomical Data, Moscow

    Canadian Astronomical Data Centre

    Interuniversity Centre for Astronomy & Astrophysics, India

    Links to all Data & Archive Centres

    Databases & bibliography


    SIMBAD (mostly galactic objects)

    NED (extragalactic objects)

    Information system resources

    Bibliographic services (abstracts, articles, preprints)

    Astrophysics Data System (ADS) abstracts & articles

    Astron&Astroph abstracts

    Publ. Astr. Soc. Pacific abstracts

    New Astronomy

    preprint resources

    list of bibliographic resources


    Various Catalogs & Databases


    Stellar photometry database

    Open Cluster database

    CATS, mainly radio source catalogs

    ADS catalogs

    CDS Astronomers Bazaar

    Space Science Data Services

    World Plate Store of photographic spectra


    List of astronomical meetings


    www-address CADC




    The author gratefully acknowledges many contributions and comments to this report, received from colleagues, mostly members of the Working Group on Astronomical Data and other members of IAU Commission 5 (Astronomical Data and Documentation).

    Ernst Raimond, IAU delegate to CODATA (1994 – 2000),

    Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy (NFRA),

    Postbus 2, 7990 AA Dwingeloo, the Netherlands, e-mail:

    Compilation date of this report: June 2000.

    (During the 24th General Assembly of the IAU, 7-18 August 2000,

    Dr. Raymond Norris, Australia Telescope National Facility, is likely to be appointed IAU delegate to CODATA for at least the period 2000 - 2003)

    Staff space