Regular readers of these notes may have heard of the Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) project which aims to detect the optical counterpart of Gravitational Wave events. These events are due to the collision of neutron stars, or a neutron star colliding with a black hole. The scientists involved in GOTO, of which Armagh is a founding partner, monitor alerts from the LIGO, Virgo and KAGRA detectors, which identify a region of the sky that a gravitational wave signal, which is indicative of such a collision, came from. Our GOTO telescopes automatically trigger within 30 seconds of the alert to begin searching this region of the sky to find the optical counterpart of the gravitational wave signal. Once images are taken, they are immediately processed and analysed by the team.

This simulation shows two neutron stars colliding in the center where they throw out material at nearly the speed of light in jets of particle (pink). This fast-moving material generates a burst of gamma rays. (NASA/GSFC/CI Lab)

However, since there can be many thousands of events, it will prove a difficult task to review all events quickly. GOTO has therefore come up with an exciting new project Kilonova Seekers which asks volunteers to play “spot-the-difference” to find kilonovae – the cosmic explosions of neutron stars and black holes colliding in distant galaxies. Using data from the GOTO telescopes, this unique project enables you to help us in the identification of these rare events, and other transient events such as supernovae, in near real-time, updating with new data in a daily stream. Without the citizens scientists, we may miss vital discoveries. We are also particularly interested in images where our initial machine learning (one form of artificial intelligence) process is uncertain, as these are more likely to be something new!

Our telescopes survey the entire sky every night (weather depending), so new images will be uploaded to the project daily for the citizens to investigate – with most not yet seen by human eyes. This represents a fantastic way for the public to be involved with real-time, cutting-edge scientific research.

GOTO consists of two identical nodes: GOTO-North at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma, Canary Islands, and GOTO-South at Siding Spring Observatory, Australia. Each node hosts two mount systems each holding eight individual telescopes, operating together to cover vast regions of sky quickly. As La Palma and Siding Spring are on opposite sides of the world this allows for constant observation, i.e. as one site is closing for the day the other will take over. This allows the GOTO system to survey the entire sky every 2-3 days, taking far more data than can be analysed by GOTO scientists alone.

The two GOTO systems at Siding Spring, Australia (Krzysztof Ulaczyk/U Warwick). Two identical systems are operating at La Palma in the Canaries.

Below we give some examples of spot-the-difference:

Your task is to tell us if they are a real astrophysical object, or a data artefact – by playing ‘spot the difference’ and looking for the tell-tale signs of a new source in the ‘difference image’. Anything that changes in brightness can be detected with this method.

The above event maybe a supernovae or activity in the central black hole of the galaxy.

Although machine learning can help us identify the most obvious candidates, we need you to find the hidden gems in the data stream – transients we would have otherwise missed or overlooked.

This event is probably instrumental or when the subtraction is not exact.

Along the way, we’ll find supernovae, variable stars, active galaxies, and perhaps things we haven’t seen before. This is an exciting opportunity to make direct and meaningful contributions to time-domain astronomy, and we hope you’ll join us.

This event is probably a star which is `variable’, i.e. its brightness changes over time.


To get involved, please visit:

GOTO Web site:

Social Media Handles: @GOTOObservatory

The GOTO Kilonova Seekers project was developed by Tom Killestein (Warwick), Lisa Kelsey (Portsmouth), Laura Nuttall (Portsmouth), Joe Lyman (Warwick) and Coleman Krawczyk (Portsmouth).

Gavin Ramsay leads Armagh’s involvement with the GOTO project.





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