SOAR telescope (left) and Gemini Observatory (right) The 4.1-meter SOAR telescope at Cerro Pachón in Chile, is the pathfinder facility for AEON and successfully completed its first observing night for the network. Credit: SOAR / Bruno Quint
New telescope network to rapidly follow up on the changing night sky
Supernovae, neutron star mergers, black holes at the center of galaxies, erupting young stars — these are all examples of objects in the night sky that change their brightness over time. In the coming years, astronomers expect to discover millions of these variable astronomical events with new sensitive telescopes like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). But to characterize these objects and to understand them better, they need to be observed with other, different telescopes soon after they are discovered.
To provide astronomers with a network of world-class telescopes that can be accessed with a touch of a button, four ground-based astronomical observatories have joined forces to set up the Astronomical Event Observatory Network (AEON): Las Cumbres Observatory (LCOGT), the National Science Foundation’s National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), the SOAR Telescope, and Gemini Observatory. With AEON, astronomers will be able to automatically follow up on their astronomical objects of interest, with a range of 0.4-meter to 8-meter telescopes, observing in UV light to infrared.
The 4.1-meter SOAR telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile is the pathfinder facility for AEON. It has successfully completed its first observing night for the network, looking at 10 different astronomical objects under excellent sky conditions. The results, which demonstrate successful access to a large telescope outside the LCOGT network, mark the beginning of a unique new partnership between major astronomical observatories.
“This was the first of 20 nights in which we will follow up on variable objects such as young supernovae and near earth objects,” said SOAR project scientist César Briceño. “SOAR is a great test bed for AEON. It is located on the same mountain as LSST and we have years of experience with remote observations. The telescope also hosts multiple instruments and has been designed to produce the sharpest images possible with any ground-based telescope,” he added.
NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, the US center for ground-based optical-infrared astronomy, operates the international Gemini Observatory (a facility of NSF, NRC–Canada, CONICYT–Chile, MCTI–Brazil, MCTIP–Argentina, and KASI–Republic of Korea), Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), the Community Science and Data Center (CSDC), and the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. It is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with NSF and is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. The astronomical community is honored to have the opportunity to conduct astronomical research on Iolkam Du’ag (Kitt Peak) in Arizona, on Maunakea in Hawai’i, and on Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón in Chile. We recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that these sites have to the Tohono O’odham Nation, to the Native Hawaiian community, and to the local communities in Chile, respectively.