Telescope for detecting optical signals from gravitational waves launched

Posted by ap507 at Jul 04, 2017 03:30 PM |
University of Leicester involved in new research project

Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 4 July

  • New telescope for detecting optical signatures of gravitational waves – built and operated by an international team of researchers led by the UK - officially opened on La Palma
  • Detecting optical signatures of gravitational waves opens a new era in astrophysics – allowing astronomers to probe into the distant Universe and better understand the nature of gravity
  • Partly funded by the University of Leicester, this facility brings a new facet to the search for the origins of gravitational wave research already underway by Leicester astrophysicists.

Images of the telescope are available here (credit Antonio González / IAC): 

A state-of-the-art telescope for detecting optical signatures of gravitational waves - built and operated by an international research collaboration, led by the Universities of Warwick and Monash - has been officially launched.

The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) was inaugurated at the astronomical observing facility in the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias on La Palma, Canary Islands, on 3 July 2017.

GOTO is an autonomous, intelligent telescope, which will search for unusual activity in the sky, following alerts from gravitational wave detectors - such as the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Adv-LIGO), which recently secured the first direct detections of gravitational waves.

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space-time, created when massive bodies – particularly black holes and neutron stars – orbit each other and merge at very high speeds.

These waves radiate through the Universe at the speed of light, and analysing them heralds a new era in astrophysics, giving astronomers vital clues about the bodies from which they originated – as well as long-awaited insight into the nature of gravity itself.

First predicted over a century ago by Albert Einstein, they have only been directly detected in the last two years, and astronomers’ next challenge is to associate the signals from these waves with signatures in the electromagnetic spectrum, such as optical light.

This is GOTO’s precise aim: to locate optical signatures associated with the gravitational waves as quickly as possible, so that astronomers can study these sources with a variety of telescopes and satellites before they fade away.

Dr Danny Steeghs, from Warwick’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Group, is leading the project. He comments:

"After all the hard work put in by everyone, I am delighted to see the GOTO telescopes in operational mode at the Roque de los Muchachos observatory. We are all excited about the scientific opportunities it will provide.”

Professor Paul O'Brien, heading up the Leicester GOTO team, said, “We are delighted to create this innovative and powerful facility which will be a unique probe of the universe.”

"Our team have studied catastrophic events in the universe that can lead to the emission of gravitational waves, and we are hoping to find a coincident signal from one these objects with a gravitational wave detection. This is not easy, but GOTO will give us the chance to search large areas of the visible sky efficiently, and make discoveries of many kinds," commented GOTO member Dr Rhaana Starling from the University of Leicester.

Professor Paul Monks, the University of Leicester’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Head of the College of Science and Engineering was in attendance at the inauguration ceremony.

GOTO is operated on behalf of a consortium of institutions including the University of Warwick, Monash University, the Armagh Observatory, the University of Leicester, the University of Sheffield, and the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT).

La Palma is one of the world’s premier astronomical observing sites, owing to the fact that it is the steepest island in the world and has very little pollution – giving researchers clear views of the sky.

Image 1: The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) - credit Antonio González / IAC

Image 2: Inauguration of GOTO - credit Antonio González / IAC

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