World's largest robotic telescope ready for action!

August 04, 2003

The Liverpool Telescope, the world's largest fully robotic telescope, has snapped its first images of the heavens this week. This 2 meter optical telescope is owned by the Astrophysics Research Institute (ARI) of Liverpool John Moores University (JMU), but observes autonomously from its site on La Palma in the Canary Islands. The telescope was designed, constructed and commissioned by Telescope Technologies Ltd., a subsidiary company of JMU.

The Liverpool Telescope's unique capabilities of flexible scheduling and rapid response will put the UK at the forefront of exciting new fields of research in time domain astrophysics. "This enables us to study such phenomena as supernovae and Gamma Ray Bursts - the biggest explosions in space," said Professor David Carter of the ARI. The telescope's other great strength is its ability to make regular observations of objects that vary over periods from seconds to years. This is very difficult with current astronomical facilities. It can also track newly discovered objects such as comets or near-Earth asteroids, allowing accurate calculations of their paths and potential hazard.

The telescope is supported by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, making 40% of the observing time available to astronomers throughout the UK. A further 5% of the time has been donated by JMU to the National Schools' Observatory (NSO) programme. "School children can now work on their own projects alongside professional astronomers," said Dr. Andy Newsam (NSO astronomer). This is the first time regular access has been granted to schools on world-class research telescopes.

Images can be downloaded from: or

Images used must be credited to the Liverpool Telescope/JMU.

Provided are pictures of the telescope itself and a selection of images taken by the LT with its optical camera during its very first night of operation. An intensive period of commissioning is now underway. At the end of this even better images will be possible. Combining several observations taken through special coloured filters produces the colours.

The Ring Nebula (M57). A "planetary nebula" - the glowing shroud surrounding the remains of a dead star. The white dwarf stellar remnant can be seen in the centre.

The Dumbbell Nebula (M76). A "planetary nebula" - the glowing shroud of gas surrounding the remains of a dead star. The dramatic colours tell us about the chemical composition of the gas.

A Globular Cluster (M13). A dense ball of stars that orbits our galaxy at a distance of 25,000 light years. Hotter stars show blue in this image. Cooler stars are yellowish.

The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51). A large spiral galaxy somewhat like our own Milky Way but located about 30 million light years away.

NGC6503. The bright central core of this "Seyfert galaxy" is thought to contain a super-massive black hole, producing vast amounts of energy as it swallows surrounding stars, dust and gas.

The Liverpool Telescope. These photographs of the top half of the telescope were taken in the hours before the very first night of observing. Part of the telescope dome is visible in the background and illuminated by the setting sun. The ring at the top of the telescope is 2 meters across.

Telescope External Views. These photographs show the distinctive and novel enclosure of the Liverpool Telescope, quite different from the domes familiar from most telescopes. At night the entire enclosure opens like a clam-shell, to reveal the telescope.

Notes for editors

The Astrophysics Research Institute (ARI) is the astrophysics research and teaching department of Liverpool John Moores University (JMU). It operates the Liverpool Telescope on behalf of the university and the research community.

Telescope Technologies Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Liverpool John Moores University focussed on the design and production of high specification equipment including large astronomical telescopes and instrumentation.

The telescope is sited at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos which is operated on the island of La Palma by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias.

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four broad areas of science - particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science.

Contact details

Professor Dave Carter, the project scientist, is unavailable for comment as he is in La Palma at present, commissioning the telescope.

The LT project's own web page is
Further information about the ARI based National Schools' Observatory (NSO) programme may be found at Dr Andy Newsam (can comment on both the scientific and the schools programme)
Astrophysics Research Institute,
Tel: 44-0-151-231-2905

Prof. Chris Collins:
Acting Director, Astrophysical Research Institute
Tel: 44-151-231-2919
Fax: 44-151-231-2921

Dr Robert Smith
LT Research Fellow
Tel 44-0-151-231-2903

Dr. Paul Rees:
Telescope Technologies Ltd.
Tel: 44-151-650-3100
Fax: 44-151-650-3113

Janet Martin:
Corporate Communications,
Liverpool John Moores University,
Tel: 44-151-231-3583
Fax: 44-151-709-9841

PPARC Press Office:
Julia Maddock
Tel 44-0-1793-442094
Fax 44-0-1793-442002

Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos, (Spain)
Juan Carlos Perez Arencibia
Telephone 34-922-405-500
Facsimile 34-922-405-501

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four areas of science - particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science.

PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), and the European Space Agency. It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank observatory.

PPARC's Public Understanding of Science and Technology Awards Scheme funds both small local projects and national initiatives aimed at improving public understanding of its areas of science.

Science and Technology Facilities Council

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