High-speed robotics take Spanish astronomers south of the Equator

Spanish astronomers are using a robotic telescope on the other side of the world to study gamma ray bursts that could signal the formation of black holes.

The telescope, located in New Zealand astronomer Bill Allen's vineyard, is the result of collaboration between the Andalusian Institute of Astrophysics in Granada and three New Zealand universities. It has a 60cm mirror and receives data on gamma ray bursts (GRBs) from satellites via a global alert system.

GRBs are notably brief and unpredictable events, and are thought to occur when massive stars go hypernova, releasing huge amounts of energy as they first explode and then collapse to form black holes.

The bursts are detected first by satellites, whose readings are relayed to the telescope - called Bootes-3, for Burst Observer and Optical Transient Exploring System - in seconds. Its robotics enable Bootes-3 to automatically move into position extremely quickly, locate the explosion and measure its brightness.

Two similar Bootes telescopes are already operating in Spain, so Bootes-3 extends the project's coverage to the southern hemisphere. The telescope can be accessed remotely by astronomy students in Spain, and will also be used by NZ astronomers as part of a gravitational microlensing project aimed at exploring dark matter and extra-solar planets.

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