With the advent of large-scale time-domain surveys such as the LSST, there is a strong desire for the 4-m SOAR Telescope to be able to respond efficiently and effectively to transient alerts. Enabling the required capabilities at SOAR will also support a greater variety of science programs than conventional telescope scheduling. These capabilities are best deployed with SOAR acting as one of several telescopes responding to alerts and supporting time domain programs. We outline how this might be done if SOAR is included as a node in the Las Cumbres Observatory network, at least part-time. This allows SOAR to make use of extensive existing software infrastructure, while adding a larger aperture to the existing network. Participation of SOAR also serves as a pathfinder for participation of other large telescopes in an evolved LCO network. The overall workflow is outlined. Required interfaces are described. Finally, the initial development efforts with this goal in mind are outlined.
We discuss a generalised model for representing a telescope of arbitrary complexity as a networked resource that could be scheduled by a remote entity. We describe the five interfaces that enable such a telescope to i) accept authorised projects, ii) receive and update a schedule of observations, iii) report progress of ongoing observations, iv) propagate operational telemetry and v) produce retrievable science products. We are using this model to integrate the SOAR 4.1m into the Las Cumbres Observatory (LCOGT) robotic telescope network, and see it as a general approach that could be applied to other telescopes in the future.
Modern astronomical surveys such as the Large Synoptic Sky Survey (LSST) promise an unprecedented wealth of discoveries, delivered in the form of 10 million alerts of time-variable events per night. Astronomers are faced with the daunting challenge of identifying the most scientifically important events from this flood of data in order to conduct effective and timely follow-up observations. Several ongoing observing programs have proven databases to be extremely valuable in conducting efficient follow-up, particularly when combined with tools to select targets, submit observation requests directly to groundand space-based facilities (manual, remotely-operated and robotic), handle the resulting data, interface with analysis software and share information with collaborators. We draw on experience from a number of follow-up programs running at LCOGT, all of which have independently developed systems to provide these capabilities, including the Microlensing Key Project (RoboNet, PI: Tsapras, co-I Street), the Global Supernova Project (SNEx, PI: Howell) and the Near-Earth Object Project (NEOExchange, PI: Lister). We refer to these systems in general as Target and Observation Managers (TOMs). Future projects, facing a much greater and rapidly-growing list of potential targets, will find such tools to be indispensable, but the systems developed to date are highly specialized to the projects they serve and are not designed to scale to the LSST alert rate. We present a project to develop a general-purpose software toolkit that will enable astronomers to easily build TOM systems that they can customize to suit their needs, while a professionally-developed codebase will ensure that the systems are capable of scaling to future programs.
The Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network comprises nine 1-meter and two 2-meter telescopes, all robotic and dynamically scheduled, at five sites spanning the globe. Instrumentation includes optical imagers and low-dispersion spectrographs. A suite of high-dispersion, high-stability spectrographs is being developed for deployment starting late this year. The network has been designed and built to allow regular monitoring of time-variable or moving objects with any cadence, as well as rapid response to external alerts. Our intent is to operate it in a totally integrated way, both in terms of scheduling and in terms of data quality. The unique attributes of the LCOGT network make it different enough from any existing facility that alternative approaches to optimize science productivity can be considered. The LCOGT network V1.0 began full science operations this year. It is being used in novel ways to undertake investigations related to supernovae, microlensing events, solar system objects, and exoplanets. The network’s user base includes a number of partners, who are providing resources to the collaboration. A key project program brings together many of these partners to carry out large projects. In the long term, our vision is to operate the network as a part of a time-domain system, in which pre-planned monitoring observations are interspersed with autonomously detected and classified events from wide-area surveys.