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The discovery of the first electromagnetic counterpart to a gravitational wave signal has generated follow-up observations by over 50 facilities world-wide, ushering in the new era of multi-messenger astronomy. In this paper, we present follow-up observations of the gravitational wave event GW170817 and its electromagnetic counterpart SSS17a/DLT17ck (IAU label AT2017gfo) by 14 Australian telescopes and partner observatories as part of Australian-based and Australian-led research programs. We report early- to late-time multi-wavelength observations, including optical imaging and spectroscopy, mid-infrared imaging, radio imaging, and searches for fast radio bursts. Our optical spectra reveal that the transient source emission cooled from approximately 6 400 K to 2 100 K over a 7-d period and produced no significant optical emission lines. The spectral profiles, cooling rate, and photometric light curves are consistent with the expected outburst and subsequent processes of a binary neutron star merger. Star formation in the host galaxy probably ceased at least a Gyr ago, although there is evidence for a galaxy merger. Binary pulsars with short (100 Myr) decay times are therefore unlikely progenitors, but pulsars like PSR B1534+12 with its 2.7 Gyr coalescence time could produce such a merger. The displacement (~2.2 kpc) of the binary star system from the centre of the main galaxy is not unusual for stars in the host galaxy or stars originating in the merging galaxy, and therefore any constraints on the kick velocity imparted to the progenitor are poor.
Our knowledge of the universe comes from recording the photon and particle fluxes incident on the Earth from space. We thus require sensitive measurement across the entire energy spectrum, using large telescopes with efficient instrumentation located on superb sites. Technological advances and engineering constraints are nearing the point where we are recording as many photons arriving at a site as is possible. Major advances in the future will come from improving the quality of the site. The ultimate site is, of course, beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, such as on the Moon, but economic limitations prevent our exploiting this avenue to the degree that the scientific community desires. Here we describe an alternative, which offers many of the advantages of space for a fraction of the cost: the Antarctic Plateau.
The Figaro data reduction system was originally written for DEC VAXes running VMS, and little attention was paid to making it portable. Recently, however, a cooperative effort between the AAO, MSSSO, UNSW, the UK Starlink network and Caltech has resulted in a version for UNIX. This new version has been run under VMS and three different versions of UNIX. The files produced by any version may be read directly by any other version, although Figaro has a particularly complex file format which contains an extensible, self-defining, hierarchical structure of data items. This complexity has allowed the addition of error and quality data, as well as specific structures used, for example, for echelle data. Figaro is written mainly in Fortran (with numerous DEC extensions) but there is also a significant use of C. While C and Fortran are reasonably portable, the way one is called from the other is less portable and needs careful handling. Ports to other systems are possible, with effort; a Macintosh version is being considered.
An instrument is described that can detect clouds at night-time by sensing their infrared emission. The device can readily detect clouds that are difficult to see with the unaided eye on a moon-lit night. It can be used to provide an indication of how photometric the conditions are, to terminate exposures when cloud forms, and to close the dome when conditions become unsuitable for observing. The detector also has applications as an astronomical site-surveying instrument.
The University of NSW’s Automated Patrol Telescope is a modified Baker-Nunn satellite tracking camera, now used for CCD imaging of astronomical objects. The f/1 Baker-Nunn optical design gives a 30° field of view with an approximately spherical focal surface of radius ≈500 mm. While the focal plane curvature is tolerable across the 1.4° × 1.0° field of the present CCD, it becomes unacceptable when a larger CCD is used. In addition, the use of glass filters in the highly convergent beam produces intolerable spherical aberration. We present a design modification to the original Baker-Nunn which enables a 5° diameter flat field to be produced when using B, V, R or I filters. By making this modification, we plan to perform multicolour imaging, using a new large-format CCD with a 2.9° × 1.9° field of view.
We describe the application of Peltier effect cooling to charge coupled device (CCD) detectors. We are developing this technique to produce a CCD camera which requires low maintenance, yet has sufficiently small dark-current for long exposure imaging. This camera will be used in an automated imaging telescope at Siding Spring Observatory. The design principles used to maximise cooling of the detector, and hence minimise dark-current, are discussed. A small dark-current can be obtained only if great care is taken to reduce or eliminate convective, conductive and radiative heating of the chip. In addition, a path of high thermal conductivity must be provided for the heat removed from the CCD. A recent laboratory test of our cooling system demonstrates that careful design can lead to sufficiently low CCD dark-current for many astronomical applications.
Gattini and CSTAR have been installed at Dome A, Antarctica, which provide time-series photometric data for a large number of pulsating variable stars. We present the study for several variable stars with the data collected with the two facilities in 2009 to demonstrate the scientific potential of observations from Dome A for asteroseismology.
PILOT (the Pathfinder for an International Large Optical Telescope) is a proposed 2.5-m optical/infrared telescope to be located at Dome C on the Antarctic plateau. The atmospheric conditions at Dome C deliver a high sensitivity, high photometric precision, wide-field, high spatial resolution, and high-cadence imaging capability to the PILOT telescope. These capabilities enable a unique scientific potential for PILOT, which is addressed in this series of papers. The current paper presents a series of projects dealing with the distant (redshift >1) Universe, that have been identified as key science drivers for the PILOT facility. The potential for PILOT to detect the first populations of stars to form in the early Universe, via infrared projects searching for pair-instability supernovae and gamma-ray burst afterglows, is investigated. Two projects are proposed to examine the assembly and evolution of structure in the Universe: an infrared survey searching for the first evolved galaxies at high redshift, and an optical survey aimed at characterising moderate-redshift galaxy clusters. Finally, a large-area weak-lensing survey and a program to obtain supernova infrared light-curves are proposed to examine the nature and evolution of dark energy and dark matter.
The near infrared sky spectral brightness has been measured at the South Pole with the Near Infrared Sky Monitor (NISM) throughout the 2001 winter season. The sky is found to be typically more than an order of magnitude darker than at temperate latitude sites, consistent with previous South Pole observations. Reliable robotic operation of the NISM, a low power, autonomous instrument, has been demonstrated throughout the Antarctic winter. Data analysis yields a median winter value of the 2.4μm (Kdark) sky spectral brightness of ˜120μJy arcsec−2 and an average of 210 ± 80μJy arcsec−2. The 75%, 50%, and 25% quartile values are 270 ± 100, 155 ± 60, and 80 ± 30μJy arcsec−2, respectively.
PILOT (the Pathfinder for an International Large Optical Telescope) is a proposed 2.5-m optical/infrared telescope to be located at Dome C on the Antarctic plateau. The atmospheric conditions at Dome C deliver a high sensitivity, high photometric precision, wide-field, high spatial resolution, and high-cadence imaging capability to the PILOT telescope. These capabilities enable a unique scientific potential for PILOT, which is addressed in this series of papers. The current paper presents a series of projects dealing with the nearby Universe that have been identified as key science drivers for the PILOT facility. Several projects are proposed that examine stellar populations in nearby galaxies and stellar clusters in order to gain insight into the formation and evolution processes of galaxies and stars. A series of projects will investigate the molecular phase of the Galaxy and explore the ecology of star formation, and investigate the formation processes of stellar and planetary systems. Three projects in the field of exoplanet science are proposed: a search for free-floating low-mass planets and dwarfs, a program of follow-up observations of gravitational microlensing events, and a study of infrared light-curves for previously discovered exoplanets. Three projects are also proposed in the field of planetary and space science: optical and near-infrared studies aimed at characterising planetary atmospheres, a study of coronal mass ejections from the Sun, and a monitoring program searching for small-scale Low Earth Orbit satellite debris items.
PILOT (the Pathfinder for an International Large Optical Telescope) is a proposed 2.5-m optical/infrared telescope to be located at Dome C on the Antarctic plateau. Conditions at Dome C are known to be exceptional for astronomy. The seeing (above ∼30 m height), coherence time, and isoplanatic angle are all twice as good as at typical mid-latitude sites, while the water-vapour column, and the atmosphere and telescope thermal emission are all an order of magnitude better. These conditions enable a unique scientific capability for PILOT, which is addressed in this series of papers. The current paper presents an overview of the optical and instrumentation suite for PILOT and its expected performance, a summary of the key science goals and observational approach for the facility, a discussion of the synergies between the science goals for PILOT and other telescopes, and a discussion of the future of Antarctic astronomy. Paper II and Paper III present details of the science projects divided, respectively, between the distant Universe (i.e. studies of first light, and the assembly and evolution of structure) and the nearby Universe (i.e. studies of Local Group galaxies, the Milky Way, and the Solar System).
The cold, dry, and stable air above the summits of the Antarctic plateau provides the best ground-based observing conditions from optical to sub-millimetre wavelengths to be found on the Earth. Pathfinder for an International Large Optical Telescope (PILOT) is a proposed 2 m telescope, to be built at Dome C in Antarctica, able to exploit these conditions for conducting astronomy at optical and infrared wavelengths. While PILOT is intended as a pathfinder towards the construction of future grand-design facilities, it will also be able to undertake a range of fundamental science investigations in its own right. This paper provides the performance specifications for PILOT, including its instrumentation. It then describes the kinds of projects that it could best conduct. These range from planetary science to the search for other solar systems, from star formation within the Galaxy to the star formation history of the Universe, and from gravitational lensing caused by exo-planets to that produced by the cosmic web of dark matter. PILOT would be particularly powerful for wide-field imaging at infrared wavelengths, achieving near diffraction-limited performance with simple tip–tilt wavefront correction. PILOT would also be capable of near diffraction-limited performance in the optical wavebands, as well be able to open new wavebands for regular ground-based observation, in the mid-IR from 17 to 40 μm and in the sub-millimetre at 200 μm.
At the summit of the Antarctic plateau, Dome A offers an intriguing location for future large scale optical astronomical observatories. The Gattini Dome A project was created to measure the optical sky brightness and large area cloud cover of the winter-time sky above this high altitude Antarctic site. The wide field camera and multi-filter system was installed on the PLATO instrument module as part of the Chinese-led traverse to Dome A in January 2008. This automated wide field camera consists of an Apogee U4000 interline CCD coupled to a Nikon fisheye lens enclosed in a heated container with glass window. The system contains a filter mechanism providing a suite of standard astronomical photometric filters (Bessell B, V, R) and a long-pass red filter for the detection and monitoring of airglow emission. The system operated continuously throughout the 2009, and 2011 winter seasons and part-way through the 2010 season, recording long exposure images sequentially for each filter. We have in hand one complete winter-time dataset (2009) returned via a manned traverse. We present here the first measurements of sky brightness in the photometric V band, cloud cover statistics measured so far and an estimate of the extinction.
HRCAM (High Resolution CAMera) is a Canon 50D 15-megapixel digital SLR camera equipped with a Sigma 4.5 mm f/2.8 fish-eye lens. It was installed at Dome A on the Antarctic plateau in January 2010 and photographs the sky every 15 minutes. Primarily functioning as a site-testing instrument, data obtained from HRCAM provide valuable statistics on cloud cover, sky transparency and the distribution and frequency of auroral activity. We present a first look at data from HRCAM during 2010, including an overview of how we intend to reduce the images. We also demonstrate the potential of stellar photometry by using linear combinations of the in-built Canon RGB filters to convert instrumental magnitudes into the photometric BVR bands.
In 2008 January the 24th Chinese expedition team successfully deployed the Chinese Small Telescope ARray (CSTAR) to Dome A, the highest point on the Antarctic plateau. CSTAR consists of four 14.5cm optical telescopes, each with a different filter (g, r, i and open) and has a 4.5°×4.5° field of view (FOV). Based on the CSTAR data, initial statistics of astronomical observational site quality and light curves of variable objects were obtained. To reach higher photometric quality, we are continuing to work to overcome the effects of uneven cirrus cloud cirrus, optical “ghosts” and intra-pixel sensitivity. The snow surface stability is also tested for further astronomical observational instrument and for glaciology studies.
Antarctic astronomical site-testing has been conducted using autonomous self-powered observatories for more than a decade (the AASTO at South Pole, the AASTINO at Dome C, and PLATO at Dome A/Dome F). More recently autonomous (PLATO) observatories have been developed and deployed to support small-scale scientific instruments, such as HEAT, a 0.6 m aperture terahertz telescope at Ridge A, and AST3, a 0.5 m optical telescope array at Dome A. This paper reviews the evolution of autonomous Antarctic astronomical observatories, and discusses the requirements and implications for observatories that will be needed for future larger-scale facilities.
Despite the absence of artificial light pollution at Antarctic plateau sites such as Dome A, other factors such as airglow, aurorae and extended periods of twilight have the potential to adversely affect optical observations. We present a statistical analysis of the airglow and aurorae at Dome A using spectroscopic data from Nigel, an optical/near-IR spectrometer operating in the 300–850 nm range. The median auroral contribution to the B, V and R photometric bands is found to be 22.9, 23.4 and 23.0 mag arcsec−2 respectively. We are also able to quantify the amount of annual dark time available as a function of wavelength; on average twilight ends when the Sun reaches a zenith distance of 102.6°.
Dome A on the Antarctic plateau is likely one of the best observing sites on Earth (Saunders et al. 2009). We used the CSTAR telescope (Yuan et al. 2008) to obtain time-series photometry of 104 stars with i>14.5 mag during 128 days of the 2008 Antarctic winter season (Wang et al. 2011). During the 2010 season we observed 2 × 104 stars with i>15 mag for 183 days (Wang et al. 2012). We detected a total of 262 variables, a 6 × increase relative to previous surveys of the same area and depth carried out from temperate sites (Pojmanski 2004). Our observations show that high-precision, long-term photometry is possible from Antarctica and that astronomically useful data can be obtained during 80% of the winter season.