Robotic telescope station in South Africa completes global network

An observatory station in South Africa is one of the last two to be installed in a now-completed network that allows scientists across the world to monitor the night sky around the clock.


The Burst Observer and Optical Transient Exploring System (BOOTES) system relies on automated robotic stations to detect and follow gamma ray bursts (GRBs) as a primary goal. Gamma ray explosions last just a few seconds, making crucial the ability to comprehensively monitor the skies from different continents in real time.


The robotic telescopes work with satellites that detect the gamma-ray bursts, typically associated with the death of very large stars. The BOOTES system also watches comets, asteroids and other objects, as well as space debris and other potentially dangerous objects that could pose a threat to the planet.


With four stations in the northern hemisphere and three in the southern hemisphere, there will always be at least one telescope covering the skies. The network also can be coordinated to work as a single observatory.


South Africa’s station was built at the Boyden Observatory in Bloemfontein and is managed by the University of the Free State. With its addition, as well as the final station in South America, the network is complete.

“BOOTES is the result of almost twenty-five years of continuous effort, since we installed the first station in 1998,” said scientist Alberto J. Castro-Tirado of the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA) in Spain. “The complete deployment represents a scientific milestone since it is the first robotic network with a presence on all continents.”

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