Science & Tech

Robotic telescope penetrates heart of universe’s most powerful explosion

2 min read

Cullen Blake, a graduate student at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and lead author on the paper, said that the simultaneous observation of infrared light with a gamma-ray burst was unprecedented.

This observation was made possible by PAIRITEL’s ability to aim at objects quickly and automatically. PAIRITEL pointed at the burst minutes after the Integral gamma-ray satellite detected it. PAIRITEL’s efficiency allowed astronomers to spot infrared light from the explosion during the gamma-ray burst.

“Our new data offer a more expansive view – that whatever is producing the gamma rays is also capable of producing optical and infrared light,” said PAIRITEL developer Joshua Bloom (former junior fellow at the Society of Fellows and now assistant professor at UC Berkeley).

Located at the Fred L. Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, PAIRITEL is the first fully “robotic” infrared telescope in North America dedicated to observing transient astronomical events. The telescope has been redeveloped to work autonomously. It is the northern hemisphere’s only robotic infrared telescope and is the world’s largest.

PAIRITEL shows the power of the combination of a rapid- response robotic ground-based telescope with a burst-detecting satellite. Bloom believes that “using PAIRITEL, we can start to ask bigger questions by studying the entire population of gamma- ray bursts.”