Rapid, flexible, programmable access to world-class telescope facilities
Modern astronomical surveys can now deliver tens of thousands of new discoveries every night, alerted within minutes. Yet many will require additional observations in order to understand the physical phenomena and maximize the scientific return. Observatories providing this critical follow-up must become capable of responding on similar timescales and with a flexibility governed by the demands of the science.
The Astronomical Event Observatory Network (AEON) is a facility ecosystem for accesible and efficient follow up of astronomical transients and Time Domain science. At the heart of the network, Las Cumbres Observatory has joined forces with NOIRLab and its SOAR 4.1m, Gemini 8m (and soon the 4m Blanco) telescopes to build such a network for the LSST era. SOAR was selected as the pathfinder facility for incorporating the 4m and larger telescopes into AEON.
A recent article on Science magazine features AEON and the windows into Time Domain, Multi-Messenger Astronomy, and general astronomical programs that this project will open up for the astronomical community in the near future. For a quick, simple introduction to AEON, watch the video below.
In accordance with the NOIRLab Open-sky policy, any qualified scientist may compete in peer reviewed competition for facility access, and this policy extends to AEON. Potential participants with special requirements are invited to initiate a conversation.
NOIRLab telescopes resumed science operations during October 2020 (more info in this link). SOAR started the night of Oct 7, and Gemini South started regular science observations the second half of October. We are now currently executing AEON 2020B programs.
SOAR: After successful testing during 2018-and early 2019, SOAR and NOIRLab started offering AEON-SOAR observations, both imaging and low resolution spectroscopy, in 2020A. As a feature, we include a new online, real-time spectroscopic data reduction pipeline, which allows our Goodman spectrograph users to get 1-dimensional, wavelength-calibrated spectra just seconds after the raw data have been written to disk, all on their web browser, without the need to download any software. Also included as a standard feature of the SOAR AEON queue, is an observation of a spectrophotometric standard star every night. AEON brings a new observing mode for SOAR: a highly automated observing queue run with minimal human intervention. For 2020B AEON we have 13 nights on SOAR, for 4 approved science programs. The actual number of nights each semester will ultimately depend on the demand and numbers of successful programs that request this observing mode.
TOM Toolkit: During Sep 30-Oct 5, 2019, Las Cumbres Observatory hosted the Target Observation Manager (TOM) Toolkit Workshop at Pasadena, California. This workshop came with an opportunity for participants to propose for AEON-mode time on Las Cumbres, SOAR and Gemini telescopes. Las Cumbres made available 1000h, SOAR 50h and Gemini N/S 50h. The goal of this program was to stimulate observational follow-up programs using TOM systems, especially (though not limited to) those using alerts from ZTF and other current surveys, providing the opportunity to prepare to do science with LSST alerts and data products. As a result, 15 programs were selected, spanning a range of science cases, from transient classification, use of microlensing to look for planets and black holes in our Milky Way, study of supernova progenitors, discovery and followup of small bodies in the Solar System to the followup of optical counterparts to gravitational wave events and short gamma ray bursts.
Gemini: The approved TOM Toolkit Workshop programs for Gemini have been extended through 2021A in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gemini has developed a TOM Toolkit plugin and the API for programmatic triggering; they can be found on GitHub at this link. Also, the Gemini Program Platform (GPP) project for the next generation observing system that will fully support AEON APIs passed its design review and is now under construction: details and docs are at https://www.gemini.edu/observing/operations-development . The automated scheduler is also under active development and the team is making good progress on automatic, real-time GMOS longslit data reduction.