The Gravitational wave Optical Transient Observer

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Physics

Abstract

The direct detection of gravitational waves using the Ligo gravitational wave detectors in September 2015 was one of humankind's greatest achievements. It was the equivalent of measuring the distance to the nearest star to our Sun better than the thickness of a human hair. Gravitational waves offer a route straight to the heart of the most extreme systems in nature and environments that are inaccessible to conventional astronomical techniques. This makes them powerful probes of extreme conditions and beacons to the distant universe.

However, gravitational wave detectors are currently not able to accurately pin-point the location in the sky of these waves. It will be rather like the bird watcher hearing an interesting call in the distance; the direction can be determined roughly but then the searcher must scan visually for signs of movement to pinpoint the cause. Although merging black holes are not expected to show an immediate optical signal, merging neutron stars are.

The problem is that the detectors can only locate the merging system to an area thousands of times the area of the moon. If the region can be mapped quickly enough new sources can be identified which were not present before the event took place. This idea was spectacularly demonstrated when in Sept 2017 a merging neutron star binary was detected first in gravitational waves and then a few days later in optical, radio and X-rays. This event became one of the most well studied astronomical events ever made and indicated that gold may well originate in these violent events.

In 2015, the Universities of Warwick and Monash in Australia developed the Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO). The concept was to have a series of telescopes on two mounts allowing us to cover 100 times the area of the moon in one go. As soon as a gravitational wave was triggered the robotic telescope would start taking images of the part of the sky where the event was expected to be. Since then a number of UK and international groups have joined the GOTO consortium and a prototype has been operating on the mountain top of La Palma in the Canaries.

This proposal aims to obtain funding so that the GOTO facility on La Palma can be extended to 16 telescopes covering 4 times as much as the prototype and to build a copy of GOTO in Australia. This would allow us to cover most of the observable sky and ensure that we obtain an image of the same patch of sky every few days which is essential if we are going to weed out new sources which are not the gravitational wave event but other events such as supernovae, accreting binaries or flare stars. Although somewhat confusing the search for neutron stars mergers, those other types of sources are at the same time another very useful science product that the project can produce. Our design ensures we are able to compete with other world class facilities. Our prototype telescopes are already providing excellent data showing our believe in this project will pay off.

Planned Impact

We would like to refer to our Pathways to Impact statement for a more detailed discussion of project impact, but note here the key ingredients:



- the development of a bespoke robotic mount with an industrial partner that has since been sold to 3rd parties and continues to be developed

- the implementation of bespoke wide field telescopes for professional use and the transfer of the concept to satellite tracking and SSA uses

- Big Data mining and machine learning, including a collaboration with Thailand via the Newton Fund

- Exploring citizen science opportunities

- Exploit the public's appetite for inspiring GW science to boost media coverage and stimulate uptake of STEM subjects at University level

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The main transfer of knowledge is the custom designed telescope systems we use for the project, developed in conjunction with a commercial vendor. These have fed into further market and product opportunities for the vendor, who is uses our project as a key reference and markets some of the components to other clients.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Impact Types Economic

 
Description The Gravitational wave Optical Transient Observer
Amount £1,909,964 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/T003103/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 12/2023
 
Description The Gravitational wave Optical Transient Consortium 
Organisation Armagh Observatory and Planetarium
Department Armagh Observatory
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations Project Management
Collaborator Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations
Impact see pubs
Start Year 2014
 
Description The Gravitational wave Optical Transient Consortium 
Organisation Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands
Country Spain 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations Project Management
Collaborator Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations
Impact see pubs
Start Year 2014
 
Description The Gravitational wave Optical Transient Consortium 
Organisation Monash University
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations Project Management
Collaborator Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations
Impact see pubs
Start Year 2014
 
Description The Gravitational wave Optical Transient Consortium 
Organisation National Astronomical Research Institute Of Thailand
Country Thailand 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations Project Management
Collaborator Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations
Impact see pubs
Start Year 2014
 
Description The Gravitational wave Optical Transient Consortium 
Organisation University of Leicester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations Project Management
Collaborator Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations
Impact see pubs
Start Year 2014
 
Description The Gravitational wave Optical Transient Consortium 
Organisation University of Manchester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations Project Management
Collaborator Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations
Impact see pubs
Start Year 2014
 
Description The Gravitational wave Optical Transient Consortium 
Organisation University of Portsmouth
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations Project Management
Collaborator Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations
Impact see pubs
Start Year 2014
 
Description The Gravitational wave Optical Transient Consortium 
Organisation University of Sheffield
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations Project Management
Collaborator Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations
Impact see pubs
Start Year 2014
 
Description The Gravitational wave Optical Transient Consortium 
Organisation University of Turku
Country Finland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations Project Management
Collaborator Contribution Capital investment and instrument development Software & technique development Scientific data analysis Science exploitations
Impact see pubs
Start Year 2014
 
Description BBC feature 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC filming GOTO project at La Palma Observatory
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022