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Instituto de Astrof´sica de Andaluc´a–Consejo Superior de Investigaciones

ı ı

Cient´ficas (IAA-CSIC), E-18008 Granada, SPAIN


Abstract: An overview of Robotic Astronomical facilities (especially in Spain) is

presented. The study focuses on two aspects: the control software (one of such example being the RTS2 system) and the network of BOOTES robotic telescopes, partly devoted to the study of gamma-ray burst counterparts at optical and near-infrared wavelengths. This potential application of small/medium size robotic telescopes will shed light on the high redshift Universe and should be used for triggering larger size instruments in order to perform more detailed studies of host galaxies and intervening material on the line of sight.

Keywords: Robotic Astronomy – Control Software – Gamma-ray Bursts.

1 Introduction Robotic astronomical observatories (RAOs hereafter) were first developed in the 1990s by astronomers after electromechanical interfaces to computers became common at

observatories. Following [1], let us introduce some definitions first:

• Robot: A mechanical system which executes repetitive tasks with good accuracy with human assistance. Example: Industrial robotic arm.

• Teleoperated Robot: A mechanical system which executes a given task with

good accuracy and that can be modified with human assistance. Example:

Submarine research robots.

• Intelligent Robot: A mechanical system which executes a task with good accuracy and is able to adapt itself to changes during the task execution without any kind of human assistance. Example: Rovers devoted to planetary research.

Alberto J. Castro-Tirado Robotic Astronomy and GRB studies 2 Robotic Astronomical Observatories: a brief history The 1985 book Microcomputer Control of Telescopes by R. M. Genet and M. Truebl ood [2], was a landmark engineering study in the field. Since the comissioning of the Bradford telescope (in 1993) [3] and the Iowa Telescope (in 1997) [4], many researches and companies have put considerable effort in making robust systems.

The first robots were the telescopes with an absolute positioning control and guiding systems, and the automatic weather stations, introduced in astronomical observatories.

The first robotic astronomical observatories were those ones which were able to integrate and coordinate the different automatic subsystems at the observatory (telescope, dome, weather stations). But they require human assistance (teleoperation) for the taking of decissions regarding a given task and/or its supervision.

The intelligent robotic astronomical observatories are the following step, where human assistance in the taking of decissions is replaced by an artificial intelligent system. These are being developed nowadays.

Figure 1: The RAOs location in the world. Adapted from Hessman [6].

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3 RAOs worldwide Based on the compilation collected by F. V. Hessman [6], there are about 100 RAOs

worldwide (see Fig. 1), with 35 of them being located in Europe. Some examples are:

• ROTSE (UM & LANL, USA): A network of four 0.45 cm diameter telescopes around the world, devoted to the search for optical transients [7].

• RAPTOR (LANL, USA): An array of telescopes that continuously monitor about 1500 square degrees of the sky for transients down to about 12th magnitude in 60 seconds and a central fovea telescope that can reach 16th magnitude in 60 seconds. Search for optical transients (OTs). See Fig. 2 [8].

• REM (Italy): Is a rapid reaction near-infrared (nIR) robotic telescope [9] dedicated to monitor the prompt afterglow of Gamma Ray Burst (GRBs) events [10].

• PAIRITEL (SAO, USA): It is a 1.3m telescope devoted to the study of nIR transients [11] by means of simultaneous JHK imaging [12].

Figure 2: The RAPTOR wide-field telescopes system [6].

• ROBONET (participated by 10 UK Universities) is a network of three 2m class robotic telescopes (see Fig. 3). The main aims are to detect cool extra-solar planets by optimised robotic monitoring of Galactic microlens events. In particular, to explore the use of this technique to search for other Earth-like planets.

Another goal is to perform detailed studies of GRBs [13].

LNEA III, 2008.

A. Ulla & M. Manteiga (editors).

Alberto J. Castro-Tirado Robotic Astronomy and GRB studies

–  –  –

4 RAOs in Spain Amongst the ∼35 RAOs existing in Europe (see Fig. 4), a dozen of them are located in Spain, with some of them being automated systems and few others being robotic ones.

The Spanish automated systems are the Carlsberg telescope (since 1983), the IAA Tetrascope (4 x 0.35m) at OSN (2001-05) and La Sagra (since 2006), the 0.45m Astrograph at La Sagra (since 2007) and the DIMMA (IAC), an automated seeing monitor in operation since 2007.

The Spanish robotic systems are the 0.2m and 0.3m BOOTES-1 telescopes (since 1998), the 0.3m BOOTES-2 telescope (since 2001), the 0.6m BOOTES-IR telescope (since 2004), the 0.6m TROBAR telescope (since 2004), the 0.8m MONTSEC telescope (since 2005) and the 0.4m, 0.5m and 0.5m belonging to the CAB Robotic Telescope Network (since 2004).

We provide additional details for some of them:

• The Circulo Meridiano Carlsberg was initiated by KUO, IoA and ROA, with ROA being the only institution that run the instrument nowadays. It is an

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automated telescope placed at La Palma (Canary islands), which had first light in 1983 (see Fig. 5). It allows to observe between 100,000 and 200,000 stars a night, down to r’=17. This will give accurate positions of stars, allowing a reliable link to be made between the bright stars measured by Hipparcos and the fainter stars seen on photographic plates (as measured by the APM and similar measuring machines). The current area of the survey is between -30 and +50 degrees in declination and is completed [14].

• TROBAR (UV) is a 0.6m diameter robotic telescope located in Aras del Olmo (Valencia), which had first light in 2004. It is devoted to astroseismology and extrasolar planet research. NEOs and GRBs studies are also part of the scientific programme [15].

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• The CAB/INTA/CSIC Robotic Telescope Network is formed by a 0.4m diameter telescope in Torrej´n de Ardoz (Madrid), a 0.5m diameter telescope o in Calatayud (Zaragoza) and a 0.5m diameter robotic telescope in Calar Alto (Almer´ıa). [17].

• BOOTES-1 and BOOTES-2 (participated by INTA/CSIC/AUS/CVUT) started with robotic 0.3m and 0.2m diameter telescopes and wide-field lens systems, having first light in Huelva (1998) and M´laga (2001) respectively. The telea scopes will be upgraded to 0.6m telescopes in 2008-2009.

• BOOTES-IR/T60 (CSIC) is a robotic 0.6m diameter telescope at Observatorio de Sierra Nevada (Granada), which had first optical light in 2004 and first nearinfrared (nIR) light in 2007. Simultaneous optical/nIR imaging is foreseen for late 2008. Additional details for both BOOTES and BOOTES-IR are given below.

4.1 BOOTES BOOTES, the Burst Observer and Optical Transient Exploring System, is mostly a Spanish–Czech international collaboration that works to fill in the space that actually exists in rapid variability Astronomy. It is specially aimed towards the detection and study of the optical transients that are generated in conjunction with the elusive

–  –  –

Figure 6: The BOOTES-1 0.2m and 0.3m diameter telescopes at Instituto Nacional de T´cnica Aerospacial in Mazag´n (Huelva). They will be replaced by a 0.6m telescope.

e o GRBs. It saw first light in 1998 [18] being one of the pioneering robotic observatories for OT follow ups [19]. There are two 250 km distant BOOTES stations. Thus,using parallax, it can discriminate against near Earth detected sources up to a distance of 106 km.

BOOTES-1 in Mazag´n (Huelva) has two domes (1A and 1B), three Schmidto Cassegrain telescopes (Fig. 6) and several wide field cameras. Following complementing schemes, all instruments carry out systematic explorations of the sky each night.

BOOTES-2, located near M´laga is in operation since 2002. It has one 30cm a telescope with an attached wide-field camera. The station may observe in standalone as well as in parallel stereoscopic modes together with BOOTES-1. An ultra-light weight 0.6m telescope (TELMA) is replacing the existing one in Spring 2008 [20]. See Fig. 7.

Both stations are operated under the RTS2/Linux control system (see section 6).

LNEA III, 2008.

A. Ulla & M. Manteiga (editors).

Alberto J. Castro-Tirado Robotic Astronomy and GRB studies Figure 7: The TELMA ultra-light weight telescope concept for the BOOTES-2 station in M´laga (Spain).


4.2 BOOTES-IR BOOTES-IR, the Burst Observer and Optical Transient Exploring System in the near-InfraRed, is the extension of the BOOTES project towards near-IR wavelengths thanks to a nIR camera developed in the context of Spain’s Programa Nacional de Astronom´ y Astrof´ ıa ısica, placed in 2006 at the 60 cm telescope at the Observatorio de Sierra Nevada, under a controlled dome, also developed in the context of the Project (see Fig. 8).

BOOTES-IR was first proposed in 2001. The enclosure was built atop Sierra Nevada in the Summer of 2003. The telescope was installed at the end of 2004 and first (optical) light was obtained in 2005. Since then the telescope is in commissioning phase and operating with an optical camera, and responding to some alerts within 20-30 s after occurrence. The nIR camera has had first light in 2007 [21].

Thus, BOOTES-IR will be the third astronomical nIR RAO of this kind [22], following REM (opt/nIR) at ESO La Silla Observatory in Chile and PAIRITEL (nIR), but extending its wavelength coverage in the blue optical range.

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Figure 8: The BOOTES-IR camera (BIRCAM) attached to the 0.6m robotic BOOTES-IR telescope at the Observatorio de Sierra Nevada.

5 Technology with RAOs 5.1 Range of apertures According to recent statistical studies [6] and once instruments planned by 2010 are considered, nearly 50% of RAOs have diameter smaller then 0.25m, while 10% have diameter larger than 1.25m.Nearly 95% are equipped with optical instrumentation, with the remaining fraction being devoted to nIR studies.

5.2 Telescope Control Operating Systems and Observatory Managers Control Operating Systems can be divided into commercial or specific ones, which can be open or closed source. For instance, a commercial automatization systems is TCS, developed by Optical Mechanics (OMI), for operating telescopes with diameters in the range 0.4 to 1.0 m [23]. A specific control system is the one built for 10 m Spanish GTC telescope.

Amongst Observatory Managers some examples are:

• AUDELA: Developed by A. Klotz et al. (Toulouse), starting in 1995. Open source code. Linux/Windows [24].

LNEA III, 2008.

A. Ulla & M. Manteiga (editors).

Alberto J. Castro-Tirado Robotic Astronomy and GRB studies

• ASCOM: Dessigned in 1998, by B. Denny (USA), as an interface standard for astronomical equipment, based on MS´s Component Object Model, which he called the Astronomy Common Object Model. Mostly used by amateur astronomers, has been also used by professionals, under the Windows operating system. It is widely used in supernovae and minor planet searches [25].

• RTS2: The Robotic Telescope System version 2, is being developed by P.

Kub´nek, (Ondrejov/Granada) starting in 2000. The source code is open. It a works under Linux/Windows (command line and graphical interface foreseen).

Widely used in GRB searches.

• INDI: The Instrument Neutral Distributed Interface (INDI) was started in 2003.

In comparison to the Microsoft Windows centric ASCOM standard, INDI is a platform independent protocol developed by E. C. Downey (USA). The source code is open too. Not so widely spread as the upper layer interface was not done [26].

Observatory Managers can also work as open or close loop systems. In an open loop system, a robotic telescope system points itself and collects its data without inspecting the results of its operations to ensure it is operating properly. An open loop telescope is sometimes said to be operating on faith, in that if something goes wrong, there is no way for the control system to detect it and compensate. A closed loop system has the capability to evaluate its operations through redundant inputs to detect errors. A common such input would be position encoders on the telescope’s axes of motion, or the capability of evaluating the system’s images to ensure it was pointed at the correct field of view when they were exposed [27].

6 RTS2 RTS is a system for complete observatory control. It can be regarded as a turnkey system. Once installed on any telescope, it should run and provide results. RTS consists of three major layers – device, service and monitoring, with components communicating over TCP using a simple text protocol. Detailed design and development history of RTS can be found in [28]. See Fig. 9.

6.1 Current RTS2 system operation The current network of RTS controlled observatories operates as a set of separate nodes. The nodes run every night, paying attention to local conditions via sensors and controlling all aspects of the telescope operations.

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Figure 9: RTS2 class diagram (from software developer´s point of view).

All computers (with RTS software) are accessible via the Internet with Secure Shell (SSH). This shell access is used to control observatory operations through command line utilities for remote management of observation plan and observatory.

Telescopes using the RTS are observing every clear night. The instruments are active participants of the GCN (The Gamma ray bursts Coordinate Network) [29].

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