Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network
|Founded||December 29, 1993|
|Product(s)||Robotic telescope service|
|Focus(es)||Astronomy, astrophysics, educational technology, space sciences|
|Motto||"We keep you in the dark"|
Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT.net) is a non-profit private operating foundation directed by the technologist Wayne Rosing. The network's goal is to build a global network of up to 40 robotic telescopes spaced at 7 sites distributed in Latitude and Longitude around the Earth, for scientific and educational use. The longitudinal spacing would provide complete latitude coverage in both hemispheres to allow continuous observations of any astronomical object.
The network currently consists of (as of April 2013) two fully operational 2-meter telescopes, Faulkes Telescope North and Faulkes Telescope South., three 1-meter telescopes at each of CTIO observatory in Chile and SAAO observatory in South Africa, and one 1-meter telescope in Texas (McDonald Observatory). Future sites include Siding Spring Observatory in Australia (site of FTS) and Tenerife in the Canary Islands (TO). A 0.8-meter telescope at Sedgwick Reserve is also operational.
Rosing incorporated Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope in 1993 with the long-term objective of implementing a global telescope system, and with shorter term activities of aiding various universities, observatories and individuals with the acquisition and improvement of telescopes, optics and instrumentation.
In 2005, Rosing founded the global telescope version of LCO. The first astronomers to join were Stuart Taylor in July, 2005, and Tim Brown, in June 2006. In 2005, Rosing and Taylor were joined by engineer Matt Dubberley, a longtime acquaintance of Rosing's from Las Cumbres.
After leaving his position as Director of Technology at Google in 2005, Rosing clarified the science goals of the organization to the observation of temporal events. The most effective and latest system in place for this work was the RoboNet network of three 2.0 meter telescopes, all built by Telescope Technologies Limited (TTL) of Liverpool. Two of the telescopes were owned by Dill Faulkes who also owned TTL; the third is owned by the Liverpool John Moores University.
With the intention of extending the existing network of 2.0 meter telescopes, Las Cumbres purchased the two telescopes that Faulkes owned, known as Faulkes Telescope South (FTS), located in Siding Spring, Australia, and Faulkes Telescope North (FTN), located on Haleakala in Maui in July 2005. Later that year, LCOGT acquired TTL. The intention was to add two to three 2.0 meter telescopes to the two Faulkes telescopes and form a robotically operated network.
In 2006, Las Cumbres began sponsoring an annual lecture series at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. The first lecture featured Dr. Alan Dressler of the Carnegie Observatories on "The Search for Another Earth: Looking for Life in All the Right Places." Recent lecturers have included Alex Filippenko, Andrea Ghez, David Spergel, Robert C. Kennicutt, Jr., Avi Loeb, and John E. Carlstrom.
In mid-2006, Tim Brown came to Las Cumbres as Science Director and the organization re-evaluated the science objectives in light of the anticipated plan to build additional 2.0 meter telescopes. Brown pointed out that the organizations’ objectives could be met with smaller aperture telescopes which would be less expensive to build, deploy, and operate. With the available funding, a much more widely distributed telescope network, comprising thousands of additional observing hours, was possible.
Between 2005 and 2012, site agreements for observatory nodes have been renewed and finalized in Siding Spring, Haleakala, Chile, South Africa, the Canary Islands, and McDonald Observatory in Texas. An additional site in China is under consideration. Enclosures have been built in, Chile, South Africa, and at McDonald.
Design and development efforts have covered a 1-meter telescope, enclosure, and electrical and control system; a highly modified 40-centimeter telescope including enclosures and controls; and instrumentation including photometry cameras and two different spectrographs.
In addition, Las Cumbres Observatory astronomers have been active in many areas of research, particularly supernovae and exoplanets, with more than 200 published papers in referred journals.
The first placement of a 1-meter, Las Cumbres-designed telescope is underway at McDonald Observatory at Fort Davis, Texas. Engineering and astronomical commissioning are expected to be complete by mid-2012.
The network will eventually be sited at roughly six locations in a northern and a southern global ring. Currently, the entire network is planned to contain up to 40 telescopes which will include 2 x 2-meter, approximately 12 x 1-meter, and 20 x 0.4-meter telescopes. Sites include Haleakala (Maui, USA), Siding Spring (New South Wales, Australia), Cerro Tololo (Chile), Sutherland (South Africa), Tenerife in the Canary Islands, and at the McDonald Observatory, Texas (USA). Negotiations are still taking place at some site locations, and the exact sites may change as the network evolves. The first shipments of enclosure components to the Chile and South Africa sites took place in 2010 and to McDonald Observatory in 2011.
Click here to view the LCOGT webcam at the South Africa site.
Each telescope in the network will operate robotically, without any need for a human presence at site during normal operations. This will include everything from scheduling observations to data reduction to determining if the weather conditions are suitable for observing.
At present, observations can be made on the 2 m telescopes either by remote control, where an observer directly controls the telescope, or by robotic scheduler, where observations are submitted to a queue and the observations are taken robotically. The first remote 1-meter telescope achieved first light at the McDonald Observatory on April 1, 2012.
The network of telescopes will operate as a single global telescope, with a standardized and homogeneous photometric system with identical filters, CCDs, calibration and reduction processes. The network of telescopes will allow for 24/7 high quality observations of time variable astrophysical and solar system phenomena for both scientific research and education. In addition to the three main classes of telescopes, there may also be occasional additions to the network which do not fit within these classes. One such addition is the Sedgwick Reserve Observatory in the Santa Ynez Valley, California, which has 0.8 m aperture and is a custom design system. It was commissioned in 2010 and is currently being used to test systems, instruments, and perform scientific projects as well as used for local outreach.
The network will consist of 3 main classes of telescope:
- ~20 x 0.4 meter telescopes arranged in clusters of up to 4 that will be available about half the time for education and half the time for science.
- ~12 x 1-meter telescopes arranged in clusters of up to 3 that are primarily for science use with a small fraction of time available for education.
- Existing 2 x 2-meter telescopes North and South
The telescope network will have the ability to perform many function to fulfill the mission of the project. These include rapid responses to targets of opportunities (e.g. microlensing events, supernovae, and gamma-ray bursts), following moving sources (e.g. near Earth objects) scheduling monitoring events and periodic sampling of interesting objects (e.g. X-ray binaries), and observing long-period objects across the network.
LCOGT specializes in time-domain astronomy with a focus on extrasolar planets and supernovae. Various other research topics include KBOs, NEOs, cosmology, comets, AGN, light echos, variable stars, white dwarfs, and other transient events.
Having a worldwide network of telescopes will mean there will always be a telescope available for time-critical events. The flexibility to measure transits from multiple longitudes are an example of the advantage of having telescopes spaced around the earth, hence exoplanet and supernova research remains a top priority.
The network software is developed in-house and includes everything from automatically scheduling observations across all sites to data reduction.
Many of the instruments are also designed and built in-house and includes spectrographs for both the 1-meter and 2-meter telescopes and imagers such as camera system for the 1-meter telescopes, Sinistro, and high-speed photometry/Lucky imaging.
Initially, LCOGT.net started with a strong concentration of astronomers studying extra solar planets. Science Director Timothy Brown was on the team that observed the first transiting extra solar planet, and has been a leader in transiting planet research. LCOGT scientists have since continued to be significant players in obtaining new measurements on newly found transiting planets. LCOGT's first staff astronomer, Stuart Taylor, in 2006 established LCOGT's still ongoing project on transit timing variations (TTVs). Active global telescope astronomers who have worked at LCOGT include Marton Hidas, Stuart Taylor, Rachel Street, Timothy Lister, and Timothy Brown.
LCOGT's education goal is to create a citizen science program that is open to learners of all ages around the world. The first citizen science project, Agent Exoplanet, was released in September 2011 and involves analyzing data of transiting extrasolar planets. Many other resources, tools, and a vast image archive are openly available on the LCOGT website.
LCOGT.net is keen to work in partnership with education organizations across the globe. It has been working closely with Faulkes Telescope Project since 2006, to bring real-time observing into the classrooms of the UK. As the global network grows, and more observing time becomes available, more countries will be provided with access to the high quality instruments to make their own investigations or to help contribute to the citizen science program.
The educational goal of LCOGT.net is to create an awareness for science and technology, and to foster the ability to think critically about the world around us.
- "Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe". University of California at Santa Barbara. May 17, 2007.
- Sabrina Ricci (February 26, 2008). "Astronomers Strive For Global Network of Telescopes". Daily Nexus, University of California, Santa Barbara.
- Rees, P. C. T.; Conway, P. B.; Mansfield, A. G.; Mucke-Herzberg, D.; Rosing, W.; Surrey, P. J.; Taylor, S., "A global network of robotic telescopes" Proceedings of the SPIE. (2006) Retrieved 2012-02-13.
- Brown, Timothy M.; Taylor, S. F.; Rosing, W.; Mann, R.; Trimble, V.; Farrell, J. A., "Keeping Astronomy in the Dark Around the Clock: Introducing LCOGT.net" Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society (2006) Retrieved 2012-02-13.
- Czart, K "Las cumbres observatory" European Planetary Science Congress (2006) Retrieved 2012-02-13.
- "He'll Keep You in the Dark", UCSB Engineering Magazine (2007)
- Brown, Timothy M., Rosing, W. E.; Baliber, N.; Hidas, M.; Street, R., "Surveys, Temporal Variability, and the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope" Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society (2007)
- Sedgwick Reserve website
- Shporer, Avi, et al. "The LCOGT Network" Proceedings IAU Symposium 276, 2011
- Hawkins, Eric, et al. "Scheduling observations on the LCOGT network" Proc. SPIE 7737, 77370P (2010); doi:10.1117/12.857756
- Hand, Eric "Global observatory sees first light" Nature, April 3, 2012.
- Pickles, Andrew, et al. "LCOGT Telescope Network Capabilities" Proc. SPIE 7733, 77332X (2010); doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1117/12.857923
- Kavli Institute News
- Brown, Timothy M. et al. "Spectroscopy at LCOGT" Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society (2012)
- Brown, Timothy M. et al. "LCOGT Image Capabilities" Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society (2011)
- Bianco, Federica, et al. "LIHSP: Lucky Imaging and High Speed Photometry at LCOGT" Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society (2011)
- Taylor, Stuart F. "LCOGT TTV project" Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society (2008)