July 2, 2013
New Liverpool Telescope Under Development
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The scientific community is designing a successor to the 2-meter Liverpool Telescope (LT) located on La Palma.
The Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), which owns and operates LT, is developing plans for the new telescope. So far, they've said Liverpool Telescope 2 (LT2) will be a 4-meter class facility.
"We've been having productive talks with the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias and hope to work in partnership with them to realize the project. La Palma is of course one of the best observing sites in the world, and there are obvious logistical benefits to siting LT2 at the same observatory as LT," said Dr Chris Copperwheat, who presented the current status of the project at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting. "There are potential science benefits as well - we'll be exploring the possibilities of using the two telescopes together to provide an enhanced capability. La Palma is a northern site but there is still good overlap with the southern sky."
LT has become a leading astronomical facility due to its ability to quickly observe newly discovered or transient events in the universe, such as Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs). More than 2,000 schools have used LT as part of an outreach program.
The upcoming telescope will be fully robotic and will be capable of making rapid and flexible observations to follow up on discoveries made by other observatories. Scientists say this application in the field of astronomy is important due to current and upcoming large-scale surveys of the night sky.
The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will begin running around 2020, starting-up a new 10-year mission in which the entire southern sky is photographed every few nights.
"These surveys will discover large numbers of exotic and rare supernova subtypes, and will also be discovering them at an extremely early point in their evolution. Currently, only a small fraction of transients get any follow-up analysis, and this problem will get even worse in the LSST era. This is where we envisage LT2 coming in to its own," said Copperwheat.
LT2 will be able to slew extremely rapidly and get onto a new target soon after receiving a "trigger" from another facility. Scientists say this is vital to help astronomers catch the light from transient objects that fade extremely rapidly. LT2 will be able to detect the target and make follow-up observations within just a few tens of seconds.
"As well as GRB afterglows, there may be rapidly fading transients from more exotic sources. A new gravitational wave detector, Advanced LIGO, should be operational by 2014 - one exciting possibility is that LT2 could make follow-up optical observations of merging neutron stars or black hole binaries that are initially detected through gravitational waves. There will be a lot of competition to detect these and the reaction speed of LT2 might give us an advantage," said Copperwheat.
The telescope will also be used for observations of binary systems and variable stars detected by the European Space Agency's Gaia mission. This mission is due for launch later on this year and will be used to create a highly accurate 3D map of the Milky Way galaxy.