Algorithms Aid Search for Source of Spacetime Rumbles

A new, automated telescope search program in Arizona called SAGUARO hopes to catch neutron stars in the act of colliding

3 min read
The University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey telescope, to which astronomers have added an automated search system to rapidly respond to gravitational wave detections from the LIGO and VIRGO observatories in the U.S. and Italy.
The University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey telescope, to which astronomers have added an automated search system to rapidly respond to gravitational wave detections from the LIGO and VIRGO observatories in the United States and Italy.
Photo: Catalina Sky Survey

One night last week around 7 p.m., Michael Lundquist was at his home in Tucson, Arizona when his cellphone rang. He knew from the ringtone that it was a robocall. So he took it immediately. He lives for moments like this.

“A LIGO/VIRGO alert has been received,” the automated voice told him (generated by a Python script that he’d written). The LIGO gravitational wave detector in Louisiana and Washington state had just seconds earlier picked up a ripple in spacetime. Lundquist opened his email app to see the details of LIGO’s gravitational wave alert.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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