Science with the Liverpool Telescope

Liverpool Telescope
Supernova 1987a
Credit: AAT

Many people think of the night sky as a peaceful and unchanging place. In fact the Universe is place which is always moving, and always changing. Sometimes these changes are quick and dramatic.

When trying to understand the Universe we need to study how stars and galaxies change over time. On most large telescopes, getting time to observe is very competitive. If you get time it is given for whole nights, which are decided many months in advance. This means it can be difficult to see how objects change nightly, and you can miss sudden events altogether.

Robotic telescopes do not work in this way. Each night the telescope makes short observations of many objects for different observers all around the world. If something exciting happens, it can get images quickly. It doesn't even need a human to tell it to do this. The telescope can talk to satellites in space to look at interesting events quickly. 

This can be important for many reasons:

Fast Response
Sometimes things in space happen very fast. Things like a supernova, which is a huge explosion of a star. They are very powerful and can get millions of times brighter in only a few days. They can then fade slowly, usually over a few months. A robotic telescope can get information about the early stages of these events. It can then go back to the object night after night to track how the brightness changes.

The picture shows 2 images of the same patch of sky. These were taken a few days after and a few days before, a supernova in 1987. Over the course of a couple of nights, a single star became the brightest object in the whole galaxy.

Slow Changes
Some objects in the sky can change on much longer time scales. These could be many years or even longer. Learning to understand these changes can give clues to the physics which drives them. Robotic telescopes are flexible. They allow astronomers to study objects over all time scales, small and large.

When a new object is discovered, like a comet or an asteroid, it is important to get good images of it. They need to be carefully timed to work out the objects exact path the object is moving through space. This is so we can figure out whether it might be a problem in years to come. A large robotic telescope is good at making these measurements quickly and efficiently.