International, a leading independent research institute based in
Silicon Valley, today announced that the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration’s Office of Space Science’s Applied Information
Systems Research (NASA OSS AISR) program has awarded SRI funds to
develop the basis of a “National Virtual Aeronomical Observatory”
(NVAO). The estimated funding is $381,000 over two years.

The NVAO would collect high-resolution survey spectra of optical
emissions from excited atoms and molecules in Earth’s night
atmosphere. Astronomers’ echelle spectrographs are already recording
these sky spectra during every hour of every night at numerous
locations. These data would be made available to atmospheric
scientists and astronomers through the World Wide Web, in standardized
formats, with appropriate access and inquiry tools. Students and
researchers would be able to perform “observations” on the “real
atmosphere” from their desktops, either as educational exercises, as
publishable research, or as “dry run” experiments before taking to the

The NVAO concept is founded on research performed by scientists in
SRI’s Molecular Physics Laboratory, who since 1997 have been finding
atmospheric surprises in a small subset of the potentially available
sky spectra, collected from a few collaborating astronomers using Keck
telescopes. Even this limited collection provides the best available
survey spectra of optical emissions from the Earth’s night atmosphere,
with an unparalleled combination of sensitivity, dynamic range,
spectral coverage, and resolution. SRI’s research has been funded by
the National Science Foundation’s Atmospheric Sciences Division.

The NVAO concept builds on the broader theme of a National Virtual
Observatory (NVO), ranked by a recent National Academy of Science
report, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, as the most
important small initiative in astronomy for the 2001-2010 timeframe.
The NVO would provide a seamless “digital sky” in all wavelengths,
based on the massive data sets being created now, and the even more
massive data sets yet to come with future surveys and observatories.
New tools would be developed to explore the data.

SRI solicits the participation of researchers in the NVAO project
as postdoctoral fellows, visiting graduate students, or as summer
students in its Research Experience for Undergraduate Students program
( The institute also solicits participation by
senior atmospheric science and astronomy researchers as collaborators,
users, data donors, or members of the NVAO Scientific Advisory Group.
International collaborations are especially welcome. Interested
parties should contact David L. Huestis, Ph.D., director of the NVAO
at SRI, at

SRI’s Molecular Physics Laboratory (
provides government and commercial clients with fundamental and
applied research in areas such as laser sensors and diagnostics, mass
spectroscopy, and atmospheric processes.

For more information on the NVAO project, visit

About SRI International

Silicon Valley-based SRI International ( is one of the
world’s leading independent research and technology development
organizations. Founded as Stanford Research Institute in 1946, SRI has
been meeting the strategic needs of clients for more than 55 years.
The nonprofit research institute performs contract research and
development for government agencies, commercial businesses and
nonprofit foundations. SRI is well known for its innovations in
information technology, telecommunications, engineering,
pharmaceuticals, chemistry, physics, and the public policy areas of
education, health, and economic development. In addition to conducting
contract R&D, SRI licenses its technologies, forms strategic
partnerships and creates spin-off companies.


     SRI International
     Marty Mallonee, 650/859-2198
     Phase Two Strategies for SRI International
     Phil Gomes, 415/772-8460