Global network deploys robotic telescope at UCD research site

15 Feb 2023

The BOOTES-3 station on the South Island in New Zealand (IAA-CSIC/NIWA). Image: IAA-CSIC/NIWA

BOOTES-6, part of a global network of telescopes to study gamma-ray bursts, is located alongside UCD’s Watcher telescope in South Africa.

A new network of robotic telescopes across five continents has been deployed this week, and one of them has a strong Irish connection.

The Burst Observer and Optical Transient Exploring System, or BOOTES, is a network of telescopes installed in observatories across seven countries. Two of them are in Spain, while New Zealand, China, Mexico, South Africa and Chile have one each.

BOOTES was established in the late ’90s to detect and study gamma-ray bursts and other transient astrophysical phenomena that do not present a permanent emission over time, but rather emit light briefly, intensely and suddenly.

The first telescope in the network, BOOTES-1, is located at the Sierra Nevada Observatory in Granada, Spain, and it has been operational since 1998. Since then, six new sites have been launched as part of the network, working with other observatories around the world.

BOOTES-6, which is now located in South Africa, has been situated alongside the Watcher robotic telescope at the Boyden Observatory. The Watcher telescope has been built and run by UCD researchers Dr Antonio Martin-Carrillo and Prof Lorraine Hanlon since 2006.

Watcher is a fully autonomous telescope for the rapid follow-up of cosmic gamma-ray bursts and other highly variable sources. It was built by Martin-Carrillo and Hanlon, both of the UCD School of Physics, in collaboration with the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein.

Hanlon, who is the director of the C-Space, UCD’s space research centre, said they built the Watcher robotic telescope at Boyden Observatory to “chase the visible light from the brightest explosions in the universe”, called gamma-ray bursts.

“With this new larger telescope, we will be on target faster to catch this fading light,” said Hanlon, who also leads the Eirsat-1 programme expected to launch Ireland’s first satellite this year.

Martin-Carrillo described the choice of location for BOOTES-6 alongside UCD’s Watcher robotic telescope as a “great opportunity” to advance research projects.

“Both telescopes have almost identical equipment which allow us to combine their observations easily. By having two telescopes at the same observatory, we can implement more efficient ways of following up gamma-ray bursts and searching for the optical counterparts of gravitational waves.”

He added that being part of the BOOTES network gives them “a unique opportunity” of having full coverage of the night sky and the ability of monitoring astrophysical sources “almost uninterruptedly”.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic