SkyWatch: A Real-time Feed for Astrophysical Transients

by Guest on December 7, 2015

Dexter Jagula is a co-founder of SkyWatch, a company that is creating innovative tools in time domain astronomy. SkyWatch were the winners of the 2014 NASA International Space Apps Challenge, and have completed a term in the Google for Entrepreneurs program.

When studying transients, capturing observations of such events is extremely time-sensitive. It’s not only important to receive a transient trigger, and know when a candidate has been detected, but just as important to know what activities have been logged in observing that transient.

The Gamma-ray Coordinates Network (GCN) is perhaps the most renowned source of disseminating high-energy transient events, predominantly gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). Once observations have started for a particular source, GCN Circulars are issued by observers as a way to communicate their observations and findings.

Astronomer’s Telegrams (ATels) act much the same way, but cover a much broader range of events than just GRBs, catering to observers with scientific interests varying from asteroids and comets to supernovae and black holes.

Both GCN Circulars and ATels provide an exceptional service in notifying and informing the community of the latest transient activity being captured by a variety of astrophysical facilities, but this is often an initial step towards astronomers making observations of their own. The new SkyWatch web application attempts to make that initial step a bit bigger.

Image of the SkyWatch user interface


SkyWatch is a free service that combines GCN Circulars (and notices) and ATels within a single event stream, grouping observations of a single source together. This enables users to easily search for, and filter events, and also to browse the observing history of any one object. Like the GCN and ATel services, SkyWatch also supports email subscriptions for notifications on new events as they become available in real-time. Furthermore, users are able to specifically tailor exactly what they see within their feed, and what they’re emailed about, by specifying which types of event or object are relevant to their research.

Customizing SkyWatch’s subscription settings


SkyWatch also consolidates several of the tasks an astronomer will conduct before planning their observations. Where coordinates are available, a visibility graph is automatically generated to show users whether the source is visible from telescope sites of their choice and, if so, when. The visibility graph also includes other useful information such as twilight hours and the Moon distance and phase.

Auto-generated object visibility graph


For objects with coordinates, archival imagery is also presented via Aladin Lite, upon which nearby catalogued sources and their magnitudes, as obtained from SIMBAD, are presented. By condensing all of these separate tools into one interface, the workflow of planning a rapid response to a transient detection becomes a lot simpler.

Finders' charts provided through Aladin Lite Finders’ charts provided through Aladin Lite


SkyWatch is currently being used by astronomers and astrophysicists worldwide with extremely positive feedback. We welcome more users, and all of the feedback the community can provide. Users can send feedback directly through the app, by emailing, or in the comments section below. Please visit SkyWatch to sign-up.

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