Attack of the Remote Controlled Telescopes

Yesterday I watched the remake of War of the Worlds. There were some rather bizarre, unphysical and unnecessary changes to the plot but the action scenes were very well done. Attacking tripods combined with various articles I read this morning got me thinking about the rise of the remotely controlled telescope. Thankfully they don't come with "death rays".

Perhaps the earliest remotely controlled telescope on the internet was the Bradford Robotic Telescope. The first incarnation of the telescope was located near Oxenhope in the Yorkshire Pennines back in 1993 but due to a lightning stike and the rather miserable British weather, the telescope is now sited on Tenerife. The BRT paved the way and is often overlooked.

The next remotely controlled telescopes that I became aware of were the Liverpool Telescope and the Faulkes Telescopes which were built by a spinoff company of Liverpool John Moores University. The Liverpool Telescope is a 2m telescope sited on La Palma and is used by professional astronomers. The Faulkes Telescopes are also 2m in size and are located on Hawaii and in Australia. Recently the Faulkes Telescopes (and Telescope Technologies Limited) were bought by a Google billionaire who is now a UCSB senior fellow in astrophysics and engineering. They were made a part of the Las Cumbras Observatory Global Telescope or Google Telescope as I refer to it given the funding source and logo design. LCOGT claim that over the next 18 months they will add twenty four 40cm telescopes to their network and allow many more school children (and presumably astronomical societies) to make use of their facilities.

The telescopes that I've mentioned so far are mostly free for school use. For the rest of us there are several commercial telescope networks now appearing on the Internet. The first of these that I noticed was Slooh.com. It is based on Mt Teide, Tenerife to allow the US market to use it live during the day. They sell time on their telescopes via retailers such as Amazon for around $10 per 50 minutes. More recently Dr Gianluca Masi set up what he rather confusingly called the Virtual Telescope. I say confusing because it is real and has nothing to do with the Virtual Observatory. The telescope is currently sited near Rome but he plans to expand his network to different continents in the future. He currently charges from €20 per hour. Today I heard (via Astronomy Magazine) about Global-Rent-A-Scope which has telescopes in the US, Israel and Australia. Global-Rent-A-Scope charges $14-135 per hour but have a minimum spend of $100. I haven't used any of these services so can't vouch for their quality. If anyone has, please leave a review in the comments.

When I first got on the Internet in 1997 few people would have thought that 10 years later there would be networks of telescopes around the world being used remotely over the internet. Even fewer may have expected businesses to be built around them. We should expect the remotely controlled telescopes to continue to increase in number and, unlike the monsters of sci-fi B movies, that is a good thing.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 13th Nov 2007 (13:36 GMT) | Permalink
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