In DepthAstronomy

Speedy robots gather spectra for sky surveys

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Science  05 Feb 2021:
Vol. 371, Issue 6529, pp. 550-551
DOI: 10.1126/science.371.6529.550

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Summary

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) has, for more than 20 years, pioneered collecting spectra from millions of astronomical objects, from nearby stars to supermassive black holes. But this year, the survey is making a change: Instead of employing a small team of technicians for the daily chore of plugging optical fibers into preprepared plates so that—when placed in the telescope—they collect light from exactly the right position in the sky, the SDSS is going robotic. For the project's upcoming fifth set of surveys, plug plates are being replaced by 500 tiny robot arms, each holding fiber tips, that patrol a small area of the telescope's focal plane. They can be reconfigured for a new sky map in 2 minutes. Although such robot spectrographs have been built before, the SDSS is part of a rush to retrofit robots to older telescopes so astronomers can grab spectra from the wealth of interesting objects that will soon be streaming from new imaging surveys.

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