New telescope to detect Gravitational Wave events

GOTO (Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer) began when the University of Warwick and Monash University wanted to address the gap between Gravitational Wave detectors and electromagnetic signals. The project (2014 -2019) was awarded Alliance funding and was supplemented by direct capital contributions from the Faculties of Science at both Warwick and Monash.

The project was led by Professor Duncan Galloway, from the Monash University School of Physics and Astronomy and Professor Danny Steeghs of the University of Warwick, Head of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Group. The MWA funding supported two post-docs, and travel costs related to Warwick-Monash visits as well as travel to La Palma Observatory, the site of the prototype hardware for the project.

The prototype system was installed in 2017 and achieved first light in June 2017. It has been operating since then, transitioning from commissioning and verification to a more science-focused mode. Initially it operated in “sky survey” mode most of the time, allowing detection of a wide range of transient classes, and responding to triggers (including from LIGO/Virgo) on short notice. The motivation for the project was vindicated with the first detection of gravitational waves by LIGO/Virgo in 2015, which has led to an explosive growth in the area of gravitational wave astrophysics, as anticipated in our bid.

The vision for GOTO was to grow beyond the initial prototype phase, exploiting its modular design and seeking to deploy arrays of 16 telescopes at two sites. Under the leadership of the Warwick/Monash team, the GOTO collaboration was expanded with additional partners. They have made capital contributions to the project as well as offering human resources and complementary expertise. These include partnerships in the UK with Sheffield, Leicester, Armagh, Manchester and Portsmouth as well as the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT) and the University of Turku (Finland). Also, the La Palma site owner, the Instituto de Astrofisico de Canarias are involved as per the site agreement. The international partners also offered access to follow-up facilities.


Once the design philosophy of GOTO had been demonstrated and vindicated, the team submitted significant bids to the research councils (STFC in the UK and ARC in Australia) in order to push towards the original vision for GOTO.

The travel funding provided by the MWA was used as intended, to facilitate a close collaboration between the core personnel at Warwick and Monash, and to fund regular trips to La Palma Observatory.

GOTO, now led by the University of Warwick, signals a new era of Gravitational Wave science. Deployed across two antipodal locations to fully cover the sky, GOTO will scour the skies for optical clues about the violent cosmic events that create ripples in the fabric of space itself.

Now the international collaboration has 10 partners, six of which are in the UK. GOTO has received £3.2 million of funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to deploy the full-scale facility.  Professor Steeghs commented: “The award of £3.2 million of STFC funding was critical in allowing us to build GOTO, as it was always envisaged to be; arrays of wide-field optical telescopes in at least two sites so that these could patrol and search the optical sky regularly and rapidly.

“This is really encouraging from an international cooperation perspective that the UK is willing to support this project, with new telescopes to be built in Australia,” said Associate Professor Duncan Galloway, from the Monash University School of Physics and Astronomy.

You can read more about the future of GOTO here