A virtual observatory (VO) is a collection of interoperating data archives and software tools which utilize the internet to form a scientific research environment in which astronomical research programs can be conducted. The VO consists of a number of data centres each with unique collections of astronomical data, software systems and processing capabilities.

The need for the development of a VO is driven by two key factors. Firstly, there is an explosion in the size of astronomical data sets delivered by new large facilities. The processing and storage capabilities necessary for astronomers to analyse and explore these data sets will greatly exceed the capabilities of the types of desktop systems astronomers currently have available to them. Secondly, there is a great scientific gold mine going unexplored and underexploited because large data sets in astronomy are unconnected. If large surveys and catalogues could be joined into a uniform and interoperating "digital universe", entire new areas of astronomical research would become feasible.

Research Council on Astronomy, RAS strongly endorsed the RVO initiative. The RVO will be an integral component of the International Virtual Observatory (IVO), which will link the archives of all the world's major observatories into one distributed database, with powerful tools to optimise the extraction of science from the data. IVO alliance (IVOA) is formed in 2002 to coordinate this activity.

The full text of the Project can be found here.

Information Infrastructure of the Russian Virtual Observatory (RVO). Second Edition