The ROTSE Experiment: Observing Gamma-ray Fireballs
Using a Robotic Telescope

Gamma ray bursts are believed to be the most energetic phenomena in the universe. In one second they can emit more than 100 times the energy that the sun does throughout its entire 10 billion year life. This energy output is short lived, however, and within days the burst has faded forever beyond the reach of our telescopes.

Despite some 3000 bursts having been detected through their gamma ray emission, only 30 have been seen with ground-based telescopes, and only one of these has been observed within an hour.

In an ambitious project to detect the gamma ray bursts in the crucial first minute of their occurence, the School of Physics has entered a collaboration with the University of Michigan, Los Alamos National Laboratories, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, to place a robotic telescope, ROTSE-III, at Siding Spring Observatory.

ROTSE-III is triggered into action by a signal relayed through the Internet from an earth-orbiting satellite. The specially designed mounting for ROTSE-III allows it to point to any position in the sky and take an image within 5-10 seconds. The images are then automatically analysed for any new or rapidly varying sources, and this information is made available to other observatories throughout the world within minutes. The precise positions provided by ROTSE-III are essential to allow the world’s largest telescopes to observe the gamma ray bursts.

Ground-breaking for the new telescope occurred in March 2001. The enclosure and weather station were installed in April 2001, with the telescope itself to be delivered in mid-2002.

Michael Ashley


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