The 12th Gaia Science Alerts Workshop was held this year in Crete, Greece, in a hybrid format with participants attending both in person and virtually. In its 12th year, the workshop focusses on the time domain aspect of the European Space Agency’s Gaia Mission which was launched in 2013.
Orbiting at the L2 Lagrangian point, the satellite is collecting accurate positional data and chemical compositions of over 1 billion stars in our Galaxy. As part of this mission Gaia is able to detect transient sources including supernovae, cataclysmic variables and rare phenomena such as microlensing events (which occur when black holes are located along the line of sight to distant stars).
Whilst focussed on the transient alerts from Gaia, the workshop has expanded to include broader time domain topics such as follow-up of supernovae. A large area of discussion is the scientific and technological goals of linking astronomical observatories and multi-messenger facilities (such as neutrino and gravitational wave detectors) around the world. The role of robotic telescopes features prominently in this system as they are able to automatically respond to alerts of new events.
Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and the University of Oviedo, in Spain, are part of the New Robotic Telescope (NRT) consortium. The NRT will be the world’s largest robotic telescope and have dedicated observing time for contributing to the global spectroscopic follow-up effort. The Liverpool Telescope (LT) is already the world's 3rd most efficient facility (see Table 2 in S. R. Kulkarni, Towards An Integrated Utility for Optical Transients) for spectroscopic classification of supernovae, and with the NRT the project will be able to classify more efficiently and sensitively than ever before. Dr Helen Jermak, NRT Project Scientist, presented the proposed observing model and the plans for the ‘Spec Survey’ to the delegates on Tuesday. This was followed with a talk by Dr Doug Arnold addressing the technical challenges of ‘plugging in’ the NRT to the global follow-up ecosystem of linked ground- and space-based observatories. The NRT project partners have a long standing relationship with the European flagship Gaia mission, having hosted the Science Alerts Workshop locally in 2015 and regularly use the LT to image the Gaia satellite; providing the European Space agency with critical orbital data of the satellite.