New telescope to detect sources of gravitational waves

(ORDO NEWS) — The new Gravitational Wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO), led by the University of Warwick, marks a new era in gravitational wave science.

Deployed at two antipodal points to completely cover the sky, GOTO will comb it for optical clues to violent cosmic events that ripple in the very fabric of space.

Gravitational waves (GWs), long thought to be a by-product of the collision and merger of cosmic giants such as neutron stars and black holes, were finally directly detected by the advanced LIGO observatory in 2015.

There have been many discoveries since then, but because observatories like LIGO can only measure the effect of a gravitational wave as it passes through our local region of spacetime, it can be difficult to trace the origin of the source.

GOTO aims to fill this gap in observations by searching for optical signals in the electromagnetic spectrum that may indicate the source of GW – quickly finding the source and using this information to point a whole fleet of telescopes, satellites and instruments at it.

Since most GW signals are associated with the merging of massive objects, these visual signals are extremely fleeting and need to be detected as quickly as possible, which is the purpose of GOTO.

The idea is that GOTO will become a kind of intermediary between LIGO, which detects the presence of a gravitational wave event, and more targeted multi-wavelength observatories, which can study the optical source of the event.

After successfully testing a prototype system in La Palma, Spain’s Canary Islands, the project is implementing a second generation device.

Two telescope mounting systems, each consisting of eight individual telescopes with a diameter of 40 cm, are already in operation on La Palma. Together, these 16 telescopes cover a very large field of view with 800 million pixels on their digital sensors, allowing the array to comb the visible sky every few nights.

These robotic systems will operate autonomously, constantly patrolling the skies as well as focusing on specific events or areas in response to warnings of potential gravitational wave events.

In parallel, the team is preparing a site at the Australian Siding Spring Observatory, where the same twin-mount system of 16 telescopes will be installed as on La Palma.

Both facilities are scheduled to become operational this year to be ready for the next cycle of LIGO/Virgo gravitational wave detectors in 2023.

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