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Calls for proposals for semester 2017B 08 March 2017

Credit: R. Smith, LT Group

The LT Time Allocation Committee has issued the calls for proposals for Semester 2017B (1st Jul 2017 → 28th Feb 2018).

PATT applications

PATT accepts proposals from Principal Investigators (PIs) based in the UK.

Non-UK PIs who are not eligible for CAT, OPTICON or CCI time may also apply through PATT.

After taking off 20 hours set aside for Reactive Time and 44 hours allocated in previous semesters, there are 236 hours available to be allocated for PATT in semester 2017B.

The deadline for submission of proposals is 17:00 GMT on Friday, 7th April 2017.

Full details of the Call for Proposals are available for download as a PDF file from here [ CallForProposals-PATT-17B.pdf ]. The file gives more information about the proposal process, reactive time applications, new and existing instruments, and the telescope's performance and rapid-response capabilities.

JMU applications

The internal JMU TAG accepts proposals from Principal Investigators (PIs) from the Liverpool John Moores University Astrophysics Research Institute.

After taking off 9 hours set aside for Reactive Time and 44 hours allocated in previous semesters, there are 247 hours available to be allocated for PATT in semester 2017B.

The deadline for submission of proposals is 17:00 GMT on Friday, 7th April 2017.

Full details of the Call for Proposals are available for download as a PDF file from here [ CallForProposals-JMU-17B.pdf ]. The file gives more information about the proposal process, reactive time applications, new and existing instruments, and the telescope's performance and rapid-response capabilities.

CAT applications

The eligibility requirements and applications procedure for the CAT Time Allocation Committee can be found on the CAT website. In general, CAT accepts applications where the principal investigator (PI) is affiliated to a Spanish Institution.

The deadline for submission of proposals is Monday, 3rd April 2017.

Reactive and Priority-Z time applications

The TACs generally reserve a small proportion of their time allocation to provide rapid response to unforeseen targets of opportunity. This Reactive Time can be applied for at any time throughout the year as described here.

We also offer users the ability to apply for PriorityZ Time at any time throughout the year. We define PriorityZ time as time when there is no A, B or C-ranked science group available for the scheduling software to pick, and so the telescope would otherwise sit idle. This can occur during periods of poor seeing during full moon, or during times of instrument failure. We estimate approximately 10-15 hours of such time are available per month, although this can of course vary significantly. PriorityZ time is well-suited to long-term proposals of bright targets with no significant time constraints. We would typically expect to approve a PriorityZ proposal for a period of two years. PriorityZ time is not tied to any TAC and so we welcome applications from any research astronomer.

Liverpool Telescope at the forefront of the search for other Earths 22 February 2017
Artist's impression of the Trappist-1 system (©2017 NASA)
(click for bigger version)

Liverpool Telescope helps to track down seven new planets

The Liverpool Telescope has helped to find seven Earth-sized worlds.

The discovery of a system of seven Earth-sized planets just 40 light-years away was made possible by a team of astronomers from across the world.

The research, published in Nature this week, was led by the STAR Institute at the University of Liège, and used the orbiting NASA Spitzer Space Telescope in addition to ground-based facilities including the Liverpool Telescope (LT), owned and operated by Liverpool John Moores University's Astrophysics Research Institute (ARI).

The LT helped to detect the planets as they passed in front of their parent star, the ultracool dwarf star known as TRAPPIST-1. At least three of the planets could harbour oceans of water on their surfaces, increasing the possibility that the star system may play host to life. This system has both the largest number of Earth-sized planets yet found, making it a key object for future study.

Dr Chris Copperwheat, a co-author on the paper, and a member of the ARI, commented on the role of the LT:

“LJMU is at the forefront of the search for other-Earths and the search for other life in the Universe. The Astrophysics Research Institute was delighted to be part of this ground-breaking research using the Liverpool Telescope. The discovery of multiple rocky planets with surface temperatures which allow for liquid water make this amazing system an exciting future target in the search for life."

"As a robotic telescope and the largest in the world, the Liverpool Telescope is very sensitive to the small, less than 1 per cent dips in brightness through which the planets are discovered. It's all automated, it’s flexible and fast, and so is ideal for this sort of time critical work. Supporting the orbiting NASA Spitzer Space Telescope observing schedule, often at very short notice, is a simple task for astronomers who can use our telescope from anywhere in the world.”

The ARI is currently in the process of designing the New Robotic Telescope, a facility which will take the Liverpool Telescope’s crown as the world’s largest robotic telescope dedicated to science, and which will be a powerful tool in the search for other Earths, liquid water and life over the coming decades.

The Liverpool Telescope in action. Note: these are general observations taken by the LT and not footage of the research announced in this release. Credits: ©2016 Daniel López / IAC.

The Liverpool Telescope is one of the largest and most advanced fully robotic telescopes in the world, especially dedicated to the study of variable and transient astronomical phenomena. The timelapse video above shows this giant robot observing the universe at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the summit of La Palma (Canary Islands, Spain), one of the best places on Earth for astronomical observations.

The Liverpool Telescope is mainly used for professional astronomical research, although part of its observational time is devoted to educational projects. In Spain, these are run by the Educational Project with Robotic Telescopes (PETeR) of the IAC, while in the UK, they're run by the National Schools’ Observatory (NSO) at LJMU. The timelapse above is a production of the IAC Communication and Scientific Culture Unit and Daniel López (www.elcielodecanarias.com), with the collaboration of the LJMU Astrophysics Research Institute.

This article was adapted from the LJMU press release.

LT tracks rare microlensed quasar 18 October 2016

In a paper entitled "Gravitational lens system SDSS J1339+1310: microlensing factory and time delay" currently in preprint at arXiv , authors Luis Julian Goicoechea Santamaria and Vyacheslav Shalyapin reveal how the Liverpool Telescope (LT) has been used to characterise a gravitational lens created by a foreground galaxy in direct line with a much more distant quasar.

Light from quasar is bent by intervening galaxy's gravity, causing double image (A & B) at Earth. Quasar image inset is real LT data.
© 2016 LT group.

Light from the quasar that is heading in the general direction of Earth is passing either side of the foreground galaxy, and is being bent by the galaxy's gravity to meet at a focus at the Solar System.

From Earth we therefore see two images of the quasar, but because each light path takes a slightly different route around the galaxy, one longer than the other, the images are out of sync. Therefore any disturbance or variation in brightness from the quasar will be seen first in one image, and then repeated after some delay in the other image.

The LT data has not only revealed the time delay between both images, and also that the lensing galaxy is causing microlensing with its constituent stars along the light paths from the quasar.

Since 2005, the Gravitational LENses and DArk MAtter (GLENDAMA) team has been conducting optical monitoring of about 10 gravitationally lensed quasars with the LT. For each target, the main goals are to measure time delays between the multiple quasar images, as well as analyse the intrinsic variability of the lensed source and the possible flux variations caused by microlenses (stars) in the lensing galaxy.

After an 8-year monitoring campaign of the double quasar SDSS J1339+1310 in SDSS-R band, the LT light curves of its two images, A and B, are characterised by typical photometric accuracies of 1-2% and an average sampling rate of once every 6 days (excluding gaps).

Lightcurve of quasar images A & B from 2009-2016 (dates along top axis).
From paper by Goicoechea and Shalyapin (2016).

These light curves show parallel V-shaped variations, which allowed the GLENDAMA team to determine a time delay of 47 days with 10% precision.

In addition, the accurate follow-up observations of both images reveal the presence of significant microlensing-induced flux variations on different timescales, including rapid microlensing events lasting 50-100 days.

While the strong microlensing activity precludes a more accurate estimation of the delay between A and B, the rapid events are very rare phenomena, and thus unique tools for astrophysical studies.

Optical spectra taken with the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) confirm that the system SDSS J1339+1310 is an unusual “microlensing factory”, since appreciable microlensing-induced spectral distortions are also detected.

The paper was accepted in September 2016 for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, and is expected to be published soon.

Iridis: Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2016 24 September 2016
Iridis © 2016 Robert Smith
“This picture tells us that data can be beautiful. It is as compelling visually as it is scientifically, revealing the mechanics of astrophysical knowledge in minimalist yet stunningly attractive way.” - Melanie Vandenbrouck (IAPY judging panel)

JMU employee Robert Smith has claimed a prize in the prestigious international photography competition, the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year, with an image obtained from the Liverpool Telescope.

This composite of two images obtained with the Liverpool Telescope compares slit-less spectroscopy of two well known planetary nebulae, NGC6543 (Cat’s Eye Nebula) at the top, and NGC6720 (M57 Ring Nebula) below. In a spectrograph the light is dispersed into its constituent colours. If a target emits light at all wavelengths (such as the star at the centre of each nebula) then it is transformed into a horizontal line and all those colours add up to appear white to our eyes. Planetary nebulae, such as these, only emit light at very specific individual wavelengths. Each of the emission lines creates a separate image in the instrument. A normal image of the nebula is thus decomposed into its individual constituent colours. The particular wavelengths a nebula emits identify the gases of which it consists. Here, the brightest emissions are the red hydrogen-alpha and green oxygen-III lines. The observations were obtained robotically using the Liverpool Telescope and the SPRAT spectrograph which was built by a current LJMU PhD student, Andrzej S. Piascik. All the data used are publicly available from the LT data archive.

Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2016, attracted over 4500 entries from 80 countries and all seven continents. This year saw the annual competition's first entry from Antarctica! The prizewinners were announced during a ceremony at the Royal Observatory Greenwich with the Liverpool Telescope image, “Iridis”, taking first place in the “Robotic Scope” category. The winning images offer a fascinating cross section of everything that can be considered astrophotography, encompassing pictorial landscape, views through powerful telescopes, highly technical image processing and even social commentary.

Creator of the "Iridis" image, Robert Smith, says he was inspired to create it when considering the idea of ‘science as art’. We often hear about the idea of representing scientific data in an appealing way as an expression of art, but why not look at it the other way around; ‘art as acience’? Astrophotography is not just a matter of making science look pretty, it shows us that beauty actually is science. The winners of this competition were obviously selected because they were beautiful, striking or interesting, but each and every one is also an expression of astrophysical processes and could be the basis of a science seminar in their own right. It is physics that creates that beauty. Looking at the swirling gas in a nebula or the aurorae, you are literally seeing maths and physics.

All the winning entries may be seen in a free exhibition at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich which runs until June next year and in the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2016 show, available to planetaria worldwide. Quite apart from seeing the Liverpool Telescope's contribution, a visit to the exhibition is very much worth while if you are near Greenwich over the next year. All the winners and short listed entries are absolutely spectacular and inspiring both in their artistry and science.

IAPY exhibition at ROG
"Iridis" among the exhibition of winning entries on display at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.