Scottish telescope network open to the world

Thursday 25 March 2021

A new international consortium will enable astronomers around the world to gain access to a global network of robotic telescopes, partly owned by the University of St Andrews, allowing them to better coordinate observations of transient and astronomical events such as supernova explosions which hold the key to understanding the chemical evolution of the Universe.

The new consortium Opticon RadioNet Pilot (ORP), involving 37 institutions and covering both optical and radio astronomy with some 20 telescopes and telescope arrays, is the largest of its kind and has received €15 million funding from the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 programme.

The network will also allow astronomers to study the signatures of extra-solar planets whose demographics and characteristics could provide pointers to life beyond Earth and the context of our existence.

Besides providing scientists with access to a wide range of instruments, the ORP project will promote training for young astronomers, and ultimately open the way to new discoveries. With its integrative and inclusive approach it will, in particular, foster the development of the booming field of what is known as multi-messenger astronomy, which makes use of a wide range of wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum, as well as gravitational waves, cosmic rays and neutrinos.

Dr Martin Dominik, of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St Andrews, and ORP Board member, said: “Science is global, and sharing in scientific advancement and its benefits is an imperative. There is no better way for driving progress at the frontiers of research.”

Supported by funds from the Scottish Government to strengthen the Scottish University Physics Alliance (SUPA), the University of St Andrews has invested in three robotic 1m telescopes located in Chile, South Africa and Australia.

Nicknamed “SUPAscopes”, these form part of the larger Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) global telescope network, which was initiated by Wayne Rosing, who formerly led the team that developed Apple’s Lisa computer. As a network partner, St Andrews thereby has access to a multi-site facility covering both the northern and southern hemispheres and thereby the whole sky.

Dr Dominik added: “Our unique facility enables round-the-clock optical monitoring of targets and moreover provides full flexibility through dynamic scheduling of observations and robotic operation of the telescopes.

“It makes for an attractive proposition for many fields of astronomy, which will certainly be welcomed by the community gaining access with our participation in the ORP consortium.”

Photo caption: Dr Martin Dominik and Wayne Rosing in front of one of the 1m telescopes that form the SUPAscope/LCO network.

Astronomers from 15 European countries, Australia and South Africa, as well as from 37 institutions, have joined the ORP consortium. It will be coordinated by the French state research organisation CNRS (Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique), which is the largest fundamental science agency in Europe, together with the University of Cambridge and the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy.

The ORP management team includes Jean-Gabriel Cuby, ORP project coordinator at the CNRS National Institute for Earth Sciences and Astronomy, and Gerry Gilmore, Professor at the University of Cambridge (UK) and Anton Zensus, Director of the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (Germany), as ORP scientific coordinators for OPTICON and RadioNet respectively.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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