UK Invests in New Robotic Telescope’s Construction

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SWINDON, England, Sept. 13, 2021 — The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC, part of UK Research and Innovation) awarded £4 million ($5.51 million) to support construction of the world’s largest robotic telescope, the New Robotic Telescope (NRT). The funding will go toward science planning, management, and systems engineering in NRT’s construction phase, which is expected to last four years.

The £4 million will also support the construction of the “clamshell” telescope enclosure, an enclosure designed to protect the telescope from extreme weather and to allow fast rotation onto targets.

The £24 million ($33.08 million), 4-m-diameter (13.12 ft) telescope will be 4× more sensitive and 10× faster than the previous record-holder. It will be built alongside its sibling facility, the Liverpool Telescope, on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, Spain. NRT’s 4-m primary mirror will be made up of 18 hexagonal segments.

NRT will respond to transient triggers from space-based or survey telescopes within 30 seconds, capturing the very first seconds of evolution after an explosion. The telescope will allow highly sensitive, efficient, and fast response-observation of dynamic and variable objects in the universe; the instrument will enable the study of explosive and cataclysmic events, which are often difficult to observe given their unpredictable nature and transience. Scientists will be able to use the telescope to observe exploding stars, including supernovae and gamma ray bursts, and to search for new planets.

“Speed is key and gives us a view of mysteries of the universe which have never been observed before,” said Chris Copperwheat, astronomer in charge at the U.K.’s Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU). The NRT will be built by an international consortium led by LJMU, with the University of Oviedo (Spain) and the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands.

“So much happens in the night sky that we simply miss because we are on to it too late. The NRT will give us an almost immediate eye onto movements and phenomena, giving us an unprecedented insight into the physics of the changing sky,” Copperwheat said.

NRT is operated remotely, and scientists make requests and receive data through the web. The telescope itself picks the objects to observe.

At the heart of this robotic system is a sophisticated algorithm. STFC will fund the work to create this advanced algorithm.

Published: September 2021
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