At 1-metre across, the telescopes of Las Cumbres Observatory in Goleta, California, will be small fry. But they will soon be stitched into a global network that will provide researchers with around-the-clock coverage of quickly changing objects such as extrasolar planets, asteroids and supernovae.
On 31 March, the first telescope in the network saw first light, at McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas, just 60 hours after it was unloaded from the truck.
Eventually, the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT) network will deploy two or three identical 1-metre telescopes, each costing about US$1 million, at observatories in Hawaii, Chile, South Africa, Australia and the Canary Islands. LCOGT also has two 2-metre robotic Faulkes telescopes in Australia and Hawaii.
The philosophy behind the telescopes' design is “don’t be cute, don’t be fancy", says LCOGT scientific director Tim Brown. "Make something you know will work and make a lot of them. Put them out in the field and let them do their thing.”
LCOGT was founded by the computing pioneer Wayne Rosing, a veteran of companies including Apple and Google. Rosing was also an amateur astronomer, and would help other amateurs to customize their hardware and software. Eventually, he decided he wanted to make a more serious contribution to astronomy.
Rosing cashed in his stake in Google, and gave tens of millions of dollars to the LCOGT project. “I was employee number 6, back in 2006,” says Brown. “We’ve expanded to 60 these days.”