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Rise of the Robot Astronomers

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Palomar Observatory telescope

The Palomar Observatory's 60-inch telescope performs follow-up observations on objects discovered as a part of the Palomar Transient Factory.

Credit: Caltech Astronomy

Mount Palomar Observatory's Palomar Transient Factory uses artificial intelligence (AI) to locate variable stars, known as transients. "Our grand goal is to remove astronomers from the real-time loop of looking at images and doing discovery of astronomical transients," says University of California, Berkeley researcher Joshua Bloom.

Astronomers need to use robots to help conduct research due to the vast amount of data that modern telescopes produce. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope uses a 3,200-megapixel camera to find up to 100,000 transients per night. Many astronomers use neural network software to analyze images and distinguish starlight from that of galaxies. The project uses machine-learning algorithms to mark certain points in the sky with coordinates, which can then be recalled at a later date by other users.

The Virtual Observatory is a huge collection of astronomical data that AI software studies to locate parts of the sky that are worth examining more closely.

From New Scientist
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Abstracts Copyright © 2011 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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