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W. T. Vestrand, K. Borozdin, S. Brumby, D. Casperson, E. Fenimore, M. Galassi, K. McGowan, W. Priedhorsky, D. Starr, P. Wozniak, R. White, J. Wren (LANL)
A largely unexplored area in astronomy is the study of explosive optical transients with durations of minutes or less.The existence of spectacular rapid optical transients was clearly demonstrated by the detections of bright optical transients associated with gamma ray bursts 990123 and 021211. Those detections were only possible because they occurred in the field-of-view of a high-energy satellite that was able to identify them in real time and cue robotic optical telescopes to slew to the correct position. But there are reasons to suspect the existence of explosive optical transients that cannot be detected by high-energy satellites---the optical emission might have a broader beaming pattern or could be a precursor to the high-energy emission. The RAPid Telescopes for Optical Response (RAPTOR) experiment is an autonomous closed-loop monitoring system that identifies and makes follow-up observations of rapid optical transients in real time. The system is composed of two telescope arrays, separated by 38 kilometers, that stereoscopically monitor a field of about 1300 square degrees for celestial transients down to about 12th magnitude in 30 seconds. The absence of measurable parallax is used to distinguish celestial transients from the "forest" non-celestial transients. Each array also contains a sensitive, higher resolution "fovea" telescope, capable of imaging at a faster cadence and providing color information. In a manner analogous to human vision, both arrays are mounted on rapidly slewing mounts so that the "fovea" of the array can be rapidly directed for follow-up observations of any interesting transient identified by the wide-field system. We discuss the initial results from this new wide-field optical monitoring system.
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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society,
© 2003. The American Astronomical Soceity.