Intelligent Agents and Notifications in Astronomy App
jbone at place.org
jbone at place.org
Thu Oct 23 20:29:42 PDT 2003
This looks pretty interesting... anybody else know anything about
this? NB, pubs via links at bottom.
Intelligent Agents and robotic telescopes to help astronomers keep up
with the universe
"Intelligent Agent" computer programs are roaming the Internet and
watching the skies. It may sound like science fiction, but these
programs will help astronomers detect some of the most dramatic events
in the universe, such as massive supernova explosions. The Agents,
created by the "eScience Telescopes for Astronomical Research" (eSTAR)
project, have been deployed on the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope
(UKIRT) in Hawaii. The work is being announced at a conference in
Strasbourg on 14th and 15th October.
Dr. Alasdair Allan, on the eSTAR team at the University of Exeter, said
"The universe currently does things faster than we can respond to them.
To study the most rapid and violent events in the universe, we need to
be able to follow them quickly."
As well as supernova explosions, many other astronomical events happen
suddenly and unpredictably. These include the detection of near-Earth
asteroids as they move across the sky, rapid changes in the swirling
gases being swallowed by black holes, and the subtle changes in the
brightness of stars which may indicate planets in orbit around them.
The Intelligent Agent programs communicate with telescopes and each
other using technology designed for the Grid - the "next generation
Internet". They make observations with the telescopes, which they can
analyse and immediately follow up with further observations.
Prof. Tim Naylor, who led the eSTAR team and is also at the University
of Exeter, said "We're creating a network of telescopes which can
respond automatically to objects of great astronomical importance."
Although this is not the first time that telescopes have been
automated, or connected to the Internet, Dr. Allan explains "What is so
important here is that we have developed an intelligent observing
system. It thinks and reacts for itself, deciding whether something it
has discovered is interesting enough to need more observations. If more
observations are needed, it just goes ahead and gets them."
Frossie Economou of the Joint Astronomy Centre, which operates UKIRT,
said "Our plan is for the Agents to send messages to astronomers'
mobile phones, and even pictures if the phone supports them. That way,
you'll be able to follow events at the telescope, no matter where you
are in the world."
Dr. Allan continues "The Agents can detect and respond to the rapidly
changing universe faster than any human, and make decisions to observe
an object much faster than would otherwise be possible. Only then need
they tell their human masters what they're doing."
The Agents were recently put through their paces for the first time on
a large research-class telescope: the 3.8-metre United Kingdom Infrared
Telescope (UKIRT) on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. An Agent took live images
with UKIRT, and compared them with previous infrared maps of the sky.
It detected a dwarf nova - a star which experiences sudden flares in
It wasn't just technical hurdles that the team had to overcome in order
to bring this complex system online. As Dr. Andy Adamson, Director of
UKIRT, said "On the test night itself, we even had an earthquake on the
island, but everyone remained undaunted. Both the eSTAR Agent and the
telescope worked as planned."
In the next few months, the eSTAR Agents will spread from UKIRT to the
James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (also operated by the Joint Astronomy
Centre). After that, the team will expand the network to include fully
robotic telescopes such as the Liverpool Telescope on La Palma and the
Faulkes Telescopes in Hawaii and Australia.
So are the eSTAR team planning to put astronomers out of a job? Dr.
Allan says not: "The Agents can be used to assist human observers,
instead of replacing them entirely - augmenting their abilities to do
science quicker, faster, and more reliably."
The eSTAR work is being presented in talks by Alasdair Allan and
Frossie Economou at the Astronomical Data Analysis Software & Systems
conference in Strasbourg, on the 14th and 15th October respectively.
Star trails as the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) watches
the night sky.CREDIT: Nik Szymanek.
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The massive star Eta Carinae. This star went through a giant explosive
outburst about 150 years ago, suddenly making it one of the brightest
stars in the southern sky. In the future, changes like this will be
immediately detected and investigated by the eSTAR network. CREDIT: N.
Smith (U. Colorado), J. Morse (Arizona State U.), and NASA.
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A diagram showing how the eSTAR network operates. The Intelligent
Agents access telescopes and existing astronomical databases through
the Grid. CREDIT: Joint Astronomy Centre. Eta Carinae image courtesy of
N. Smith (U. Colorado), J. Morse (Arizona State U.), and NASA.
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small.png (smaller size PNG 75kB)
Notes for editors
The eSTAR Project
eSTAR is a joint project between the Astrophysics Research Institute at
Liverpool John Moores University and the Astrophysics Research Group of
the School of Physics at the University of Exeter. This work was a
collaboration between the eSTAR project and the Joint Astronomy Centre
in Hawaii. The project is funded jointly through the UK's Department of
Trade and Industry, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research
Council (EPSRC) and Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
(PPARC) e-science programmes. More information about the project can be
found at http://www.estar.org.uk/
The world's largest telescope dedicated solely to infrared astronomy,
the 3.8-metre UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) is sited near the summit of
Mauna Kea, Hawaii, at an altitude of 4194 meters above sea level. It is
operated by the Joint Astronomy Centre in Hilo, Hawaii, on behalf of
the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.
Dwarf novae are a particular class of "cataclysmic variable" binary
star systems. One star in the pair is a white dwarf, and the other is a
main-sequence star possibly similar to our Sun. The white dwarf
captures gas from its companion star due to their gravitational
interaction, and it is fluctuations in this process that lead to
unpredictable changes in the dwarf nova's brightness.
University of Exeter Astrophysics Group
The Exeter Astrophysics group was formed less than three years ago, but
has grown rapidly into one of the UK's leading groups studying the
formation of stars and planets. See http://www.astro.ex.ac.uk/ for more
information about the research group at the University of Exeter.
* Prof. Tim Naylor
School of Physics
University of Exeter
Email timn at astro.ex.ac.uk
Tel: +44 1392 264172
* Dr. Alasdair Allan (in Strasbourg until 18th October - contact by
School of Physics
University of Exeter
Email: aa at astro.ex.ac.uk
Tel:+44 1392 264160
* Dr. Douglas Pierce-Price (for general questions about UKIRT and
the Joint Astronomy Centre)
Joint Astronomy Centre, Hawaii
Email: outreach at jach.hawaii.edu
Tel: +1 808 969 6524
Fax: +1 808 961 6516
eSTAR Project home page
http://www.estar.org.uk/eSTAR Project mirror page
http://www.astro.ex.ac.uk/estar/More about the United Kingdom Infrared
Centre public outreach site
http://outreach.jach.hawaii.edu/Astronomical Data Analysis Software &
http://www.adass.org/This press release
[JAC outreach home]
More information about the FoRK