Las Cumbres Observatory
|Type||Not-for-profit organization, 501(c)(3)|
|Lars Bildsten (BoD), Todd Boroson (President & Observatory Director), Dorothy Largay (BoD), Wayne Rosing (BoD), Michael Skrutskie (BoD)|
Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) is a non-profit private operating foundation directed by the technologist Wayne Rosing, located in Goleta, California. The telescopes are located at both northern and southern hemisphere sites distributed in longitude around the Earth. For some astronomical objects, the longitudinal spacing of telescopes allows continuous observations over 24 hours or longer. The operating network currently consists of two 2-meter telescopes, nine 1-meter telescopes, and seven 40-cm telescopes, placed at six astronomical observatories. The network operates as a single, integrated, observing facility, using a software scheduler that continuously optimizes the planned observing schedule of each individual telescope.
Rosing incorporated Las Cumbres Observatory in 1993 with the goal of aiding universities, observatories, and individuals in the acquisition and improvement of telescopes, optics, and instrumentation. He also set the objective for the organization to build and implement a global telescope system. In 2005, Rosing established the global telescope version of Las Cumbres Observatory.
The global telescope version of LCO was founded in July, 2005 by Wayne Rosing with first astronomer Stuart Taylor followed by Tim Brown in June 2006. After leaving his position as Director of Technology at Google in 2005, Rosing clarified the science goals of the organization to the observation of time-varying astronomical 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; 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 Observatory 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, LCO 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.
LCO initially acquired the two Faulkes 2.0-meter telescopes, located at Haleakala Observatory, on Maui, Hawaii, and at Siding Spring Observatory (SSO), in eastern Australia. LCO also purchased the company that built the Faulkes telescopes, Telescope Technologies Limited of Liverpool, with the intent of installing additional 2.0-meter telescopes at different sites to form a robotically operated network. Over the next few years, Rosing and the LCO staff came to understand that a network composed of many smaller telescopes would provide greater observing capacity. The organization designed its own 1.0-meter telescope with a plan to locate several of these at each chosen site. An even smaller 40-cm telescope was also developed primarily for use in education projects.
During 2012 and 2013, nine 1.0-meter telescopes were constructed and deployed to McDonald Observatory at Fort Davis, Texas; Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO) in Chile; South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), near Sutherland, South Africa; and SSO in Australia. During 2015 and 2016, seven 40-cm telescopes were deployed to CTIO, Haleakala Observatory, SSO, and to Teide Observatory on Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
After completion of the construction and installation of these telescopes, LCO began its transition to operating a global observatory. In 2013, a Board of Directors was established and a President was hired to lead the organization. Full science scheduling began on May 1, 2014, with the two 2.0-meter and nine 1.0-meter telescopes operating as a single, integrated, observatory. The 40-cm telescopes were added to this system as they were commissioned.
Two agreements were completed in 2015 that will add to the scope of the LCO network. An agreement between LCO and the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC) will result in the deployment of two additional 1.0-meter telescopes to Ali Observatory in western Tibet. An agreement between LCO and the Israeli I-CORE center will result in the integration of the 1.0-meter telescope at Wise Observatory into the LCO network.
The National Science Foundation made an award to LCO in 2016 through its Mid-Scale Innovations Program, purchasing access to the LCO network for all astronomers at U.S. institutions. The goal of this program is to prepare this community to carry out effective research following discoveries being made by current and future time domain astronomy surveys.
LCO operates its network at six sites, with plans to add two more in the next few years. The operating sites are all professional astronomical observatories. In the southern hemisphere:
- Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO) in Chile
- South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), near Sutherland, South Africa
- Siding Spring Observatory (SSO), in eastern Australia
In the northern hemisphere:
- McDonald Observatory at Fort Davis, Texas
- Haleakala Observatory, on Maui, Hawaii
- Teide Observatory on Tenerife in the Canary Islands
The Ali Observatory in western Tibet and Wise Observatory in Israel will be added as the telescopes there become operational.
LCO also operates an identical 1.0-meter telescope at its headquarters in Goleta for engineering development and a 0.8-meter telescope at Sedgwick Reserve near Santa Ynez, California.
The 2.0-meter telescopes are the two Faulkes telescopes built by Telescope Technologies Ltd. They are f/10 Ritchey-Chrétien optical configurations on alt-az mounts.
The 1.0-meter telescopes are f/7.95 Ritchey-Chrétien optical systems on equatorial mounts. They have a 50 arcminute-diameter fully corrected field of view.
The 40 cm telescopes use the optics and tubes from Meade 16-inch RCX telescopes. The mount has been replaced by a scaled-down version of the LCO 1.0-meter telescope mount.
The 2.0-meter telescopes are instrumented with optical imagers and low-resolution optical spectrographs.
The 1.0-meter telescopes are instrumented with “Sinistro” optical imagers that have a 26 arcminute square field of view. During 2017, a set of high-resolution (R=50,000), high-stability spectrographs (NRES) are being deployed to four of the LCO sites to be coupled by optical fibers to the 1.0-meter telescopes.
The 40 cm telescopes are equipped with SBIG STX-6303 optical imagers.
The global telescope network operates as a single observatory. Users request observations only for a generic class of telescope/instrument and the software scheduler determines an optimum observing schedule for each telescope. The scheduler revises the observing schedules for all telescopes as necessary and updates can be provided within 15 minutes. The rapid-response request mode bypasses the scheduler and can begin an observation within a few minutes after submission. Each telescope carries out a nightly calibration program and adjusts its pointing and focus several times per night .
The telescopes are all instrumented uniformly to facilitate the combining of data from multiple telescopes or sites. Data are returned to LCO headquarters, where they are processed to remove instrumental signature and ingested into an archive. Users have immediate access to their observations and all data are made public after 12 months.
The network is available to researchers at institutions that are members of the LCO science collaboration. Institutions that operate the sites hosting the LCO telescopes and a few institutions that have contributed resources to help build the network are members of the collaboration. The entire U.S. astronomical community gained access to the LCO network in 2016 as a result of an award from the National Science Foundation’s Mid-Scale Innovation Program. The program is administered through a peer-review proposal process run by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. Several science teams and individuals also purchase time on the LCO network.
The design and operation of the LCO global telescope network provide the unique capabilities required for time domain astronomy. The LCO network offers the ability to observe objects or events continuously and the ability to obtain data rapidly upon the discovery or announcement of an event.
LCO specializes in time-domain astronomy. It started with a focus on extrasolar planets, NEOs and supernovae. Various other research topics include KBOs, 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, LCO started with a strong concentration of astronomers studying extrasolar planets. Science Director Timothy Brown was on the team that observed the first transiting extrasolar planet, and has been a leader in transiting planet research. LCO scientists have since continued to be significant players in obtaining new measurements on newly found transiting planets. LCO's first staff astronomer, Stuart Taylor, in 2006 established LCO's still ongoing project on transit timing variations (TTVs). Active global telescope astronomers who have made major contributions to LCO include Marton Hidas, Stuart Taylor, Avi Shporer, Rachel Street, Timothy Lister, Jason Eastman, and Timothy Brown.
Since the beginning of LCO, education has been one of its core missions. Beginning in 2008, LCO has established partnerships with educational groups across the world to provide unique access to its global network of telescopes for their educational programs. These include the Faulkes Telescope Project, Hands on Universe, and Universe Awareness.
The LCO education team also maintains in-house educational programs to trigger observations and make use of data from the LCO network. These programs are designed to inspire anyone with an interest in astronomy to explore science using robotic telescopes. Recent successful programs include Asteroid Tracker and Agent Exoplanet.
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- 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.
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- Siverd, Robert; et al. (2014). "NRES: The Network of Robotic Echelle Spectrographs". Proc. SPIE. Ground-based and Airborne Instrumentation for Astronomy VI. 9908: 99086X. Bibcode:2016SPIE.9908E..6XS. doi:10.1117/12.2233188.
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- Volgenau, Nikolaus; Boroson, Todd (2016). "Two years of LCOGT operations: the challenges of a global observatory". Proc. SPIE. Observatory Operations: Strategies, Processes, and Systems VI. 9910: 99101C. Bibcode:2016SPIE.9910E..1CV. doi:10.1117/12.2233830.
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- Brown, Timothy M.; et al. (2011). "LCOGT Image Capabilities". Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society. 218: 132.02. Bibcode:2011AAS...21813202B.
- Bianco, Federica; et al. (2011). "LIHSP: Lucky Imaging and High Speed Photometry at LCO". Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society. 218: 132.04. Bibcode:2011AAS...21813204B.
- Taylor, Stuart F (2008). "LCO TTV project". Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society. 211: 159.02. Bibcode:2008AAS...21115902T.
- Hayden, Tyler. “Las Cumbres Observatory Connects Us to the Cosmos”. Santa Barbara Independent, September 1 2016
- Las Cumbres Observatory official website
- The Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Sky and Telescope, October 2012