With a new iPhone application, you can see pictures of a supernova exploding in Orion, a star moving through Cassiopeia, or a cloud of interstellar dust flaring up while being gobbled by a black hole.
Called Transient Events, the application uses real-time observational data from the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey to monitor transient objects, or objects that change in brightness or position.
Users select events that interest them, and then images are downloaded from the Skyalert database, housed at Caltech. Next, users receive a reference picture and four subsequent images taken over the course of 40 minutes-images that led to the object’s discovery.
"With Transient Events, amateur and professional astronomers can monitor what’s happening in the night sky. If they see something of particular interest, they can point their telescopes at the object to take a closer look,” said Stephen Larson, founder of the Catalina Sky Survey. The Catalina Sky Survey, now led by Edward Beshore, employs two telescopes on Mount Lemmon outside of Tucson and one telescope in Australia to scan large swaths of sky. They search mainly for asteroids and comets wandering in proximity of the Earth. The data generated by Beshore’s team are then mined by collaborators Andrew Drake and George Djorgovski at Caltech and published on the Skyalert database as they emerge.
The iPhone application draws from this data, offering a real-time glimpse of the dynamic universe- a feature that sets it apart from other astronomical applications.
"There aren’t nearly enough telescopes to catch what is going on in the universe around us, so we’re only scratching the surface,” said Beshore, also a senior staff scientist at UA’s Lunar and Planetary Lab and UA’s Steward Observatory.
Transient Events was developed in collaboration with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, or LSST, a Tucson-based, non-profit group that’s building a telescope to survey vast stretches of the universe. "The Transient Events application is a prototype for the way the LSST is going to work, allowing us to practice now with a manageable number of alerts. It uses the same principles that will be used by LSST during science operations: Data about changing objects are gathered and provided to others in real-time for follow-up observations and monitoring,” said Suzanne Jacoby, the LSST’s manager for public education and outreach. Transient Events uses the operator’s location to determine if the object of interest is above the horizon and visible. The user also can receive notifications shortly after an event is discovered.
The developers are hoping to add additional surveys as they come online in the future, for example near-Earth objects such as asteroids and comets travelling nearby.