Until the not-too-distant past, astronomy was a circadian science—go outside at night, watch the sky, come inside and record what you saw, and repeat the process the next night. But Los Alamos astrophysicist Tom Vestrand says the cadence of astronomy is changing. No longer constrained to a daily rhythm, developments in the night sky can now be observed minute-by-minute. “We are entering an exciting new era of time-domain astronomy,” he says, “where there will be an overwhelming number of transients found in real-time.” Time-domain astronomy means doing repeated scans of the sky then looking for changes from one scan to the next, and it’s Vestrand’s goal to get the time-domain down to mere seconds. He is the lead on Los Alamos’s RAPid Telescopes for Optical Response (RAPTOR), an array of “thinking” telescopes that are being trained to discriminate which transients to observe, independent from their human operators.
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