In recent years great efforts have been spent in the astronomical community to allow a global and seamless electronic access to distributed astronomical data repositories, and to enable scientific analysis on them. A system capable of providing these services over distributed databases and computer resources is called a Virtual Observatory (VO). VOs are still in the study phase, with many projects around the world now delivering their first prototype implementations. In the meanwhile grid technologies have started to emerge and consolidate and are now expected to play a fundamental role in the development of Astrophysical Virtual Observatories. We report here about our activities aimed at integrating in the grid environment a system, developed in Padova, specifically designed for accessing very large astronomical catalogues. We evaluated several possible solutions, including the use of a tool for accessing databases developed by the European Data Grid (EDG) project, but finally we decided to adopt a web services based architecture, retaining the security infrastructure provided by the EDG software.
We plan to evolve towards an implementation fully compliant with the latest Open Grid Service Architecture specification, but without loosing compatibility with the grid middleware adopted in our project. This work is being conducted in the framework of Grid.it, a project, funded by the Italian Ministry for Education, University and Research, aimed at studying a grid infrastructure for scientific research in Italy and developing specific software tools and protype applications that run on it.
This catalogue access system will eventually become one of the first building blocks of the Italian Virtual Observatory, currently under development in the framework of a closely-related project, named DRACO. To this end, starting from the design phase of our system, and where applicable, we adopted the standards set forth by the International Virtual Observatory Alliance (IVOA).