The Dawn of Robotic Telescopes


  • Dr Juan Hernandez Santisteban

School of Physics and Astronomy

Astronomers often must travel to far-away places — high up in mountains and volcanoes — for a few days to take images of the night sky. While an amazing experience which produces new insights of our cosmos, this ‘traditional’ way of obtaining data increases the carbon footprint of astronomy researchers.

How can we make our observations sustainable? Slowly but surely, the field is moving towards adapting old telescopes into – or building new – robotic telescopes. At the University of St Andrews, we use the global network of robotic telescopes (at Las Cumbres Observatory) to study supermassive black holes. This ‘new’ wave of robotic telescopes reduces the carbon footprint of astronomers worldwide and sets the new standard for future astronomical facilities.

The image shows the sunset at La Palma in the Canary Islands. I took the photograph during my last trip to an observatory to collect data directly from the telescope. Since then, I have switched to using only robotic telescopes to gather all my images. This not only allows for interesting experiments but also helps reduce the carbon footprint of astronomers worldwide.

Photography: Juan Hernandez Santisteban