The “Warwick Empire”

NITES and the W1m. The grey sky is the ‘Calima’ – dust blown in from the Sahara.

I’m currently at La Palma, an observatory in the Canary Islands, to take data for someone in my department. Despite being comparatively close, I haven’t been here very often. It’s only the second time I’ve been here, and the first for over a year. While it’s not my favourite observatory, I enjoy seeing so many famous telescopes in one place — all the telescopes I’ve heard the most talk about are here, within a 5 minute drive of each other.


Among these is the “Warwick Observatory” — a cluster of telescopes that my own University of Warwick is heavily involved in, in some cases leading. Among them is the Warwick 1m (unfortunately they decided not to go with the Warwick One-Metre-Big Automated Telescope, or WOMBAT). Beside it is NITES the 40cm telescope. In the other is WASP-North, which along with WASP-South has found well over 100 exoplanets. Tucked away behind WASP is MASCARA, an ingenious Leiden-led project which effectively consists of 5 digital cameras pointed at the sky. I wrote an article about MASCARA recently, here.

It was particularly cool to get to see GOTO, the brand-new telescope array from the Warwick/Sheffield/Monash collaboration. The PI of the project is Danny Steeghs, one of my supervisors. The telescope was only assembled in its dome within the past month or two, so not too many people have seen it yet, and the official inauguration ceremony was just a few weeks ago. It’s still in its early stages — eventually there will be 8 telescopes mounted on the frame rather than 4, and another dome with the same setup next door.


GOTO is designed to follow-up on gravitational wave events by looking for visible light coming from the same source. Whenever a gravitational wave event is detected — so far four have been — GOTO will pivot to that patch of sky and scan for new light sources. Its parallel telescopes give it a wider field of view, necessary because it needs to cover a large area of sky as quickly as possible.

Left to right: W1m, SuperWASP (in the shed looking building), and GOTO. Also the JKT on the hilltop in the background