Astronomical instrumentation

Focusing on projects for the Liverpool Telescope

The telescope currently houses six instruments, most of which were built within the Astrophysics Research Institute.

The Astronomical Instrumentation Group is interested in optical and near-IR observations including the design and construction of imaging cameras, polarimeters and spectrometers, as well as the development and deployment of software for both single instruments and homogeneous and heterogeneous networks of instruments.

The main focus of the group is new instrument projects for the 2.0 metre fully robotic Liverpool Telescope (LT), for which the group also has the responsibility for operation and maintenance. The telescope currently houses six instruments. The instrumentation group has also been heavily involved in the development of new standards for telescope interoperability through the eSTAR and Heterogenous Telescope Networks projects. These technologies are now in use as part of the Robonet II microlensing search for exoplanets operating on the Liverpool and Faulkes telescopes.

Recent projects

  • FRODOSpec and SPRAT data pipelines
    As part of his PhD. project, Rob Barnsley developed a fully automated data reduction pipeline for the FRODOSpec integral field spectrometer. He has recently adapted this software for use with the SPRAT long-slit spectrometer. The pipeline carries out a complete processing of both data-sets, including fibre identification and tracing (for FRODOSpec), dark subtraction and flat-fielding, wavelength and throughput calibration, and identification of object and sky regions to provide a final extracted and fully calibrated spectrum ready for science use within 15 minutes of data acquisition.

  • SkyCam suite of wide-field imagers
    SkyCam is a project aimed at providing simultaneous wide-field imaging in parallel with normal LT data taking. Three high-quality CCD cameras with fields-of-view of 180o, 9o and 1o and limiting magnitudes of 6, 14 and 18 respectively take exposes every minute of every night the telescope is operating. PhD student Neil Mawson has developed a data reduction pipeline to calibrate these frames and ingest the resulting object catalogues into a massive SQL database. The database (which has many billions of data points) can then be queried to find new variable and transient objects, or to derive long term light curves of objects that are already known.

  • RINGO3 polarimetry
    The STFC-funded RINGO3 project builds on the success of the original RINGO and RINGO2 instruments in the field of Gamma Ray Burst polarimetry. RINGO3 provides multi-colour polarization light curves of the early optical emission from Gamma-ray bursts by using specially developed dichroic mirrors and three electron multiplying charge coupled device (CCD) cameras for simultaneous imaging. ARI graduate Doug Arnold has been leading the instrument design and build, and has developed a data reduction pipeline for the instrument which is now in routine use at the telescope.

  • Optical and near-IR imaging with IO:O and IO:I
    Our optical imager IO:O, developed by members of the ARI instrumentation group, is very much the work-horse instrument on the LT. In early 2015, users of the telescope have seen the addition of its near-infrared counterpart, IO:I. Together these two instruments allow for the near-simultaneous imaging, photometry and monitoring of variables, transients and targets of opportunity in the optical and near-IR. A data reduction pipeline is in place and - as with all LT instruments - fully processed images are available to users within minutes of acquisition.

  • SPRAT and the classification of faint transients
    To aid with the identification of faint transients, particularly novae and supernovae, a new high-throughput low-resolution optical spectrometer SPRAT has recently been installed on the LT. PhD student Andrzej Piascik was central to the characterisation of this instrument, and is now using it to classify transients discovered by the GAIA space telescope.

  • WEAVE, a new super-efficient spectrometer for the William Herschel Telescope
    WEAVE is a wide field multi-object spectrograph for the William Herschel Telescope which will employ up to 1000 fibres, allowing astronomers to take spectra of many hundreds of objects simultaneously. The instrument is now fully funded and is moving forward. The ARI instrumentation group has been tasked with providing two liquid-nitrogen-cooled cryostats, each containing a pair of 6000x6000 pixel CCDs. The team will also provide readout and controller software.


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