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4 mins read 25 May 2020

DREAMS across the Southern Sky

New ANU infrared telescope to rapidly scan southern skies, in search of transient events like the afterglow of neutron stars merging.

The DREAMS telescope with specifications. Credit: Anna Moore et al.

The Australian National University (ANU) has today announced a new infrared telescope that will be designed and developed by astronomers, with the ability to map the entire southern sky in three days looking for real-time events as they occur.

The new telescope, called DREAMS (the Dynamic Red All-sky Monitoring Survey) will eventually be located at the historical dark sky Siding Springs Observatory in northern New South Wales, joining other important Australian astronomical infrastructures such as the Anglo-Australian Telescope and the Skymapper telescope.

The DREAMS telescope consists of a fully automated 0.5m telescope with an infrared camera which can snap images of the sky that are about 20 times as big as the full Moon per image – allowing rapid succession of the whole sky over a short period of time, in addition to the ability to quickly turn its gaze to events that occur in space in real-time, known as transient events.

The project is being led by Professor Anne Moore, who also serves as the Director of the ANU Institute for Space (InSpace) who discussed how this new telescope is 10 times as powerful as its nearest competitor.

“DREAMS will allow us to ‘see’ the Universe in an entirely new way,” Professor Moore said.

“Infrared telescopes can study dusty and distant regions of space that are impenetrable to optical telescopes, unveiling new stars, nebulae, mergers, galaxies, supernovae, quasars and other sources of radiation new to science.

“By monitoring the sky continuously and rapidly, we will be able to search for varying and explosive phenomena. This ‘real-time’ astronomy, which allows us to study events taking place over months, weeks, or days instead of millions of years, is a window into the great unknown.

An exciting area of research in the field of astrophysics is the emerging segment of gravitational-wave (GW) astronomy since they were first detected in September 2015. GW events, which are studied using giant laser interferometers, are a hot target for astronomers who study electromagnetic frequencies – such as optical and infrared – hoping to catch a counterpart signal to find out more about the progenitor objects, which are usually merging black holes or neutron stars.

The data captured by DREAMS will help detect the source of gravitational-waves and the collision of neutron stars and black holes.

“DREAMS will enable multi-messenger astronomy – the discovery of new events by observing the sky using different wavelengths of light," lead research partner Assistant Mansi Kasliwal, from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), said.

"By doing so it aspires to pinpoint elusive gravitational wave events. 

“Neutron star black hole mergers are especially exciting as they create heavy elements that shine in the infrared.”

Co-investigator and lead technical manager of the DREAMS project, Dr. Tony Travollian (who is based at the ANU Research School for Astrophysics and Astronomy) highlights that the leaps made in the advancements in camera technology in helping develop these type of rapid-survey telescopes.

“Surveying the sky in the infrared has always been limited by the cost of the cameras and not the telescope,” said Dr. Travouillon

“The development of infrared cameras using Indium Gallium Arsenide technology, with the help of our collaborators at MIT, has given astronomers an economical alternative that we are the first to implement on a wide-field survey.

“We are using six of these cameras on our telescope. It gives us a scalable design that minimises instrument complexity and cost.”

DREAMS is funded through an Australian Research Council Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment, and Facilities award, in addition to support provided through the ANU and partners the Australian Astronomical Optics, Curtin University, Swinburne University, Macquarie University, Monash University, MIT, the University of New South Wales, the University of Sydney, and the University of Western Australia. International collaborators include Caltech and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The telescope will be completed in early 2021, with operations beginning soon after. Co-investigator Professor Orsola DeMarco, from Macquarie University, will use simulations to explain coalescing, or merging, stars captured by DREAM.

“I hope the telescope will see merging stars so dusty that they shine brightly in the infrared,” she said.