Sutherland gets three small telescopes

2013-03-25 14:38
The three identical domes in the centre of the picture are the Las Cumbres Global Observatory Telescopes.

The three identical domes in the centre of the picture are the Las Cumbres Global Observatory Telescopes.

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Cape Town –  The Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT) network has come a step closer to completion with the installation and first light of three new 1m telescopes at the South African Astronomical Observatory's (SAAO) observing site in Sutherland.
The telescopes are part of a network of telescopes spread around the world used to study time domain astrophysics. 

This branch of astronomy is concerned with the study of objects which vary intrinsically with time or which change their appearance with time due to interactions with other objects.

Examples of the types of objects which will be studied with the new telescopes at Sutherland include exoplanets, supernovae, gamma-ray bursts and minor planets in our solar system. 

In order to study these types of objects in detail astronomers need to be able to observe them over long periods. With a single telescope this is not possible as daylight interrupts observations.

Time zones

However, placing several telescopes around the world in different time zones means that once daylight approaches at one observing site astronomers can switch seamlessly to using a telescope located at another site where it is dark.

The addition of the telescope node at Sutherland is crucial as it will allow astronomers to conduct observations over long time periods in the South without interruptions.

"The South African Astronomical Observatory is pleased to collaborate with the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope project, and we are excited by the prospects for both scientific observations and public outreach activities," Ted Williams, director of SAAO said.

A team of LCOGT engineers and technicians, and LCOGT/SAAO astronomy postdoctoral fellow Abiy Tekola, convened at Sutherland for three weeks during February and early March 2013 to install and test the new telescopes. The telescopes arrived on site on 18 February and were lifted by cranes into the domes the next day.

The first of the three telescopes was fully assembled by 20 February and the telescope went on-sky for the first time that night. The second and third telescopes followed over the next two days.

Annie Hjelstrom of LCOGT, the project engineer responsible for the successful installation, said: "We had a great installation team, SAAO and SALT staff was very helpful, but this is also the culmination of eight years of design and development.

"Each telescope is built, configured, tested, and then dismantled at the Goleta, California headquarters before we put them back together on site."

To date LCOGT has installed four other identical one metre telescopes around the globe.

The trio of telescopes at Sutherland brings the observatory's total of operational one metre telescopes to seven. Two more will be installed mid-year at the Siding Spring Observatory, Australia to complete the southern ring, and a second telescope will be installed at the McDonald Observatory before the end of the year.

According to Tim Brown, Science Director of LCOGT, the one metre telescope network at Sutherland adds a critical astronomical resource for the research community.

"Because the network will span both hemispheres, and because one or more LCOGT nodes will always be in the dark, astronomers can observe from anywhere on earth at nearly any time. Also, these telescopes - robotic, responsive, and numerous -  will allow massive but carefully-directed observing campaigns that could never be done before."

LCOGT staff astronomer Rachel Street said they are very much looking forward to getting the 1m network commissioned for science.

"These telescopes are ideal for the exoplanet characterisation, supernovae follow-up and solar system studies our teams specialise in."

LCOGT also has a science partnership with the SAAO and astronomers will be using the telescopes for their science programs within the next couple of months. Additionally, the telescopes will be used for science education and outreach activities within SA and across the continent.

The SAAO based educational programme will introduce learners, educators and amateur astronomers to research-based astronomy.
Read more on:    saao  |  astronomy

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