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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


‘YouTube of the universe’

To the naked eye, the night sky is just a series of stationary dots. But to the iPhone, it is anything but.

A new application called “”Transient Events,”” developed by the UA’s Catalina Sky Survey, in collaboration with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, will provide a real-time data stream on dynamic celestial objects directly to an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

Known as transient objects, they vary in terms of brightness or position relative to the night sky and can be anything from asteroids to comets to supernovae.

“”The sky is not as static as people might think,”” said Suzanne Jacoby, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope public outreach and education manager. “”It’s moving, changing, even exploding on a nightly basis.””

The application was developed in part as a large-scale beta test for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope after a similar project was conducted by the Catalina Sky Survey with the California Institute of Technology during a search for near-earth objects. 

“”The researchers at Caltech sifted through the data looking for stationary transient objects,”” said Edward Beshore, a senior staff scientist for the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and the current head of the Catalina Sky Survey. “”This turned out to be very productive from a scientific standpoint and led to a prolific discovery of supernovae.””

Development of the application began six months ago, when Large Synoptic Survey Telescope approached the Catalina Sky Survey with the idea of utilizing their discoveries in an easily disseminated media, similar to what the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will do after its estimated 2016 launch. 

“”Both of these are very important,”” Jacoby said. “”With LSST, all the information we gather will be public. We want people to know that what’s going on with (the application) is what will happen with the telescope. It’s all practice for LSST.””

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope project revolves around a large survey telescope, which will take rapid, wide-view pictures in unprecedented detail with the major goal of creating a constant stream of digital, real-time images. 

The telescope will also feature the world’s largest digital camera at more than 3 billion pixels and will take still frame shots, which will later be combined into a digital movie of the universe.

“”Some people have called this project ‘the YouTube of the universe,'”” Jacoby said. “”This may be only a prototype project, but it’s a significant one. We’re going to learn a lot from this for when LSST is observing.””

The application itself will allow people who download it to select what sort of celestial objects or events they want to be notified about and alerts will be sent to their device as the Catalina Sky Survey identifies and updates the selected objects.

“”We wanted to get the word out and alert people that this is a transient and dynamic universe and is always changing, despite the relatively static picture of the night sky,”” Beshore said.  

As of last Friday, more than 400 portable devices had the application enabled on them and Transient Events was in the top 100 most downloaded applications. Both Beshore and Jacoby credited the rise in downloads to increased public awareness and interest in its capabilities. Jacoby also cited the UA for its leadership role in this and many other deep space projects.

“”The University of Arizona is really the center of the universe when it comes to looking at the universe,”” she said.

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