New Access to OMNI Data Through the World Wide Web

Volume 11, Number 1, March 1995
By Jason Mathews and Syed Towheed
NSSDC has developed a WWW-based scientific data retrieval and visualization system called OMNIWeb for accessing NSSDC's Near-Earth Heliospheric OMNI data. The OMNI dataset consists of 1-hour-resolution, "near-Earth" solar wind magnetic field and plasma data; energetic proton fluxes (1-60 MeV); and geomagnetic and solar activity indices. It has been network-accessible via NODIS, without graphical plotting capability, for several years now.

OMNIWeb, a prototype data system, is the next logical development of WWW application in the NASA environment where the focus is to provide more sophisticated visualizations of data in addition to online data retrieval systems. The data system is designed to exploit the hypertext feature of the WWW and offer a single "one-stop-shop" interface to the metadata and the data, as well as an additional data browse capability to OMNI data. The goal is to empower the user by providing a cohesive, consistent, and transparent interface that eases the process of metadata and data discovery, thereby, giving the researcher more time to examine the actual data itself.

OMNIWeb includes a graphical data browser and a data retrieval tool. The graphical data browser lets users visualize the data as time series plots using IDL to generate GIF images of selected data parameters. The browsing feature is designed to assist users in following trends and isolating areas of interest. The data retrieval tool allows users to choose subsets from the available data and instantly retrieve them to their computer in ASCII or binary formats. NSSDC's OMNIWeb also includes a context-sensitive help system that guides user's interactions with the system by providing helpful hints, tips, and other relevant information.

Since OMNIWeb's release to the community in January 1995, much positive feedback has been received along with suggestions for future enhancements. From this feedback, NSSDC plans to improve OMNIWeb in the near future. The OMNIWeb browser currently offers a selection from a list of variables and the time range (start/stop dates) to create a plot. One enhancement will be to extend this interface by adding an advanced browser interface with options to customize the graphical output to a much greater degree. The initial browsing interface uses default options that should satisfy most users' requests, and this new browser will provide more control to experienced users. Some advanced features might include other plot types, such as histograms, plot and background colors, image size, plot symbols, logarithmic scaling of the axes, and the ability to spawn an external image viewer rather than generate an HTML document with inline GIF images.

NSSDC also intends to apply the OMNIWeb-type interface to other data sets of special interest to users, such as Coordinated Heliospheric Observations (COHO). Creation of a common set of HTML forms, CGI scripts, data reporting tools, and data browsing tools that can be used for other data with little or no modification has been the goal for this project.

OMNIWeb and similar systems have the potential to cause a paradigm shift in the way researchers acquire data. Not only does it offer instant access to data, but OMNIWeb has the added feature of supporting interactive data visualization. The WWW has allowed the folding of network-based data retrieval and visualization seamlessly into the core of research activity.

A paper about OMNIWeb has been accepted for publication by the Third International World Wide Web Conference: Technology, Tools and Applications and is available on-line via the Web.

NSSDC encourages feedback that will help to prioritize different upgrades in functionality and upgrades to add more datasets to OMNIWeb-like accessibility.

The URL for NSSDC's OMNIWeb is http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/omniweb/ow.html.

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Last Revised: 04 Dec 1996 [EDG]