Thai Robotic Telescope Network (TRT)
Located at Latitude 5—20 degrees north, astronomical telescopes in Thailand has inherently limited access to the southern hemisphere. Reaching out to the fascinating targets in the south, such as the Galactic Center, the Magellanic Clouds, and virtually the other half of the sky requires deploying facilities in the Southern Hemisphere.
Likewise, the observing season in Thailand is largely governed by the two monsoon seasons, with consistently clear sky months being only around October - April of each year. Remote facilities to take advantage of some of the best observing sites in the world, hence, has the potential to serve as an insurance that we have at least one open eye on the sky at any given time. When multiple observatories are available at the same time across the globe, they can further join forces to provide continuous monitoring of an object without a temporal gap.
For these reasons, NARIT deployed off-the-shelf robotic telescopes, supplied by PlaneWave Instrument, of 0.6 - 0.7-meter in diameters in four continents. The control software, developed by NARIT, automatically schedules observing requests on the first possible telescope that matches observing requirements. This network aims at facilitating astronomical researches and astronomy education and outreach in both hemispheres — at any moment.
The TRT network consists of five telescopes, namely:
- Chile - Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory
The first robotic telescope in the TRT is a 0.6-meter telescope deployed in 2013 to the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in collaboration with the PROMPT (Panchromatic Robotic Optical Monitoring and Polarimetry Telescopes) collaboration at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. CTIO affords more than 300 clear nights per year, access to the southern sky, as well as being nearly antipodal from Thailand — allowing for real-time observations during daytime in Thailand for education and public outreach. The telescope is being upgraded to a 0.7-meter one in late 2020 or the beginning of 2021. The new telescope has been shipped to Chile and awaits first light when the COVID-19 pandemic alleviates.
- China - Gao Mei Gu Observatory
NARIT and Yunnan Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences, have longstanding collaborations in astronomical research over the past three decades. In 2015, on the occasion of the 60th birthday of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, NARIT and Yunnan Observatories signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly install and operate a robotic telescope at the Gao Mei Gu Observatory in the northwest of Yunnan Province, approximately 200 kilometers from Kunming. There, the joint Sino-Thai robotic telescope joins an array of leading astronomical facilities including the 2.4-meter optical telescope. The observatory is located on a 3,193-meter mountain affording clear sky and good seeing on more than 250 nights each year.
- USA - Sierra Remote Observatories
Sierra Remote Observatories (SRO) provides hosting services for remotely operated telescopes at an exceptional site in the Sierra Nevada, California. SRO has been in operation since 2007, currently hosting more than 50 telescopes and growing. The site was chosen for good seeing (typical ~1.2''), dark sky, and having ~290 clear nights/year while allowing for easy access for maintenance.
In 2015, NARIT installed a 0.7-meter telescope at the SRO. The primary goal of this telescope is to provide 24-hour monitoring of astronomical targets in the Northern Hemisphere in conjunction with the telescopes in Thailand and/or China. When not engaging in scientific observations, the SRO telescope is used to produce high-quality astrophotography for NARIT outreach materials in collaboration with a team of avid Thai astrophotographers. Additionally, the SRO telescope is used by NARIT's engineers as a testbed for the TRT software development. The system has since been deployed to our entire network.
- Australia - Springbrook Observatory
Springbrook Observatory is a privately-funded observatory located at Springbrook, Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia. Springbrook is next to Siding Spring Observatory, which hosts Australia's national astronomical facilities — a testament to the region's astronomical research potentials. The area is protected by a dark-sky regulation from the local government to preserve the observing conditions.
In 2016, NARIT installed a 0.7-meter telescope at the SRO to expand the TRT network. Additionally, we installed a dedicated 43-cm telescope with astrophotographic CCD (i.e., a large-format anti-blooming CCD) to support NARIT's education and public outreach campaign.
- Thailand - Royal Thai Air Force's Doi Inthanon Control and Reporting Center
The latest of the TRT 0.7-meter station is located in the compound of the Royal Thai Air Force's Doi Inthanon Control and Reporting Center at the summit of Doi Inthanon, about two kilometers from the site of the TNO. It is a collaboration between the NARIT, Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), and the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, each contributing the telescope instrumentation, the site, and the high-speed internet connection, respectively.
The goals of this station are twofold. Firstly, we aim to track the potentially threatening near-earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids and comets. The station helps alleviate the paucity of the observing facilities at our longitude to provide rapid follow-up and to support the orbital determination of newly discovered NEOs from, e.g., Pan-STARRS and the future Vera Rubin Observatory in collaboration with astronomers worldwide through, e.g., International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center (MPC). Secondly, the observatory was built under the auspices of a NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program and also supported by the Japan Spaceguard Association. The observatory will track satellites and space debris to catalog them through these collaborations. Additionally, the station's goal is to help raise public awareness and provide accurate and timely information on impact threats (or the lack thereof) from space objects, natural or artificial.
- Spain - Roque de Los Muchachos, La Palma Observatory
Although not a part of the TRT, NARIT is a member of the Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) project to rapidly identify optical counterparts of gravitational wave events using an array of four wide-field telescopes on a single specially-designed mount, equipped with 50M-pixel CCD that can cover a large swath of the gravitational wave event localization error box down to 20-21 mag in optical with just 3 x 120s exposures. GOTO receives gravitational-wave event triggers from LIGO and Virgo and responds to them rapidly. The telescope is located at the Roque de Los Muchachos, La Palma Observatory. Through the collaboration, NARIT researchers will have access to the data from the telescope.
A prototype phase using a single mount with 4 telescope units has achieved first light in 2017, including throughout the 3rd LIGO/Virgo observing period (O3), The second phase will double the number of telescopes (to eight) at the La Palma site and will develop an additional site in Australia to cover the southern sky. The project is a collaboration between Warwick University, Monash University, University of Sheffield, University of Leicester, Armagh Observatory & Planetarium, the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, University of Turku, University of Portsmouth University of Manchester and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias. (source: https://goto-observatory.org/).