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Caltech: Unique Sky Survey Brings New Objects into Focus

Press Release From: California Institute of Technology
Posted: Monday, June 15, 2009

Partnership Involves Caltech's Palomar Observatory and Other World Leaders in Astronomy

San Diego, Calif. -- An innovative sky survey has begun returning images that will be used to detect unprecedented numbers of powerful cosmic explosions -- called supernovae -- in distant galaxies, and variable brightness stars in our own Milky Way. The survey also may soon reveal new classes of astronomical objects.

All of these discoveries will stem from the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) survey, which combines, in a new way, the power of a wide-field telescope, a high-resolution camera, and high-performance networking and computing, with rapid follow-up by telescopes around the globe, to open windows of discovery for astronomers. The survey has already found 40 supernovae and is gearing up to switch to a robotic mode of operation that will allow objects to be discovered nightly without the need for human intervention.

The Palomar Transient Factory is a collaboration of scientists and engineers from institutions around the world, including the California Institute of Technology (Caltech); the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL); Columbia University; Las Cumbres Observatory; the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel; and Oxford University.

During the PTF process, the automated wide-angle 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope at Caltech's Palomar Observatory scans the skies using a 100-megapixel camera. The flood of images, more than 100 gigabytes every night, is then beamed off of the mountain via the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network

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