It sounds like something the West’s 2001 - Space Odyssey author Arthur C Clarke may have dreamt up. But yesterday British scientists, including experts in the West, were celebrating a world first that could revolutionise the future of astronomy.
They have begun a project to operate a global network of the world’s biggest robotic telescopes to create 24-hour surveillance of the sky at night.
Groundbreaking technology will allow the robots to work together to provide a round-the-clock coverage of the galaxy. Using their artificial intelligence they will pass information to each other and only inform their human masters when something of note has been observed.
Dubbed RoboNet, it will provide rapid observations of sudden changes in astronomical objects such as violent gamma ray bursts and other “interesting phenomena”.
RoboNet’s innovative network of telescopes will also combine to search the galaxy for undetected Earth-like planets.
Progress in modern astronomy relies on being able to follow-up unpredictable changes or appearances of objects in the sky as rapidly as possible. It was this that led UK astronomers to pioneer the development of a new generation of fully robotic telescopes, designed and built in the UK.
The project is being led by experts at Liverpool John Moores University and funded by the Swindon-based Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.
The eSTAR software that links it all together has been developed at Exeter University.
By passing observations from one telescope to the next they will watch and gather data continuously for as long as is scientifically important.
Copyright 2004 Bristol United Press
Copyright © 2002 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.