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Armagh Observatory joins global effort to find black holes and merging stars

The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) will help shepherd in a new era of space research

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The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO)

The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO)

The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO)

Armagh Observatory has joined a global effort to track down sources of gravitational waves — such as merging neutron stars and black holes, two of the most powerful forces in the known universe.

An international collaboration of 10 partners, including Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, has developed an innovative new telescope, made up of two identical arrays on opposite sides of the planet.

The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) will help shepherd in a new era of gravitational wave science.

With sites in the Canaries and Australia it will fully cover and map the skies for clues about the violent cosmic events that create ripples in the fabric of space itself.

GOTO began when the UK’s University of Warwick and Australia’s Monash University wanted to address the gap between gravitational wave detectors and electromagnetic signals.

Now the international collaboration has 10 partners, six of which are in the UK. The project has received £3.2m of funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to deploy the full-scale facility.

Dr Gavin Ramsay, who leads Armagh’s involvement in GOTO, said: “It has taken many years to get to this point, so it’s a mixture of excitement and trepidation as we move into the next phase of the project.

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“We’ve had a pandemic and a volcanic eruption on La Palma, which has slowed us down, but we expect both sites to be ready to start early next year.

“We are very much looking forward to getting onto the site in Australia to build and commission the systems there.”

GOTO is designed to fill an observational gap by searching for optical signals that might indicate the source of gravitational waves — quickly locating the source and using that information to direct a fleet of telescopes, satellites, and instruments at it.

Professor Danny Steeghs of the University of Warwick, GOTO’s Principal Investigator, said: “There are fleets of telescopes all over the world available to look towards the skies when gravitational waves are detected, in order to find out more about the source.

“But as the gravitational wave detectors are not able to pinpoint where the ripples come from, these telescopes do not know where to look.

“If the gravitational wave observatories are the ears, picking up the sounds of the events, and the telescopes are the eyes, ready to view the event in all the wavelengths, then GOTO is the bit in the middle, telling the eyes where to look.”

To find out more about Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, go to: www.armagh.space


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