The Gravitational wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) is an array of telescopes searching for the electromagnetic counterpart to gravitational waves. The robotic telescope surveys the La Palma night sky with its wide field of view. Looking at the changes in the images, we can detect counterparts and other trasient sources.
Gravitational waves are created when two compact objects merge. GOTO's particular interest is merging Neutron stars. As they collide, neutron stars cause a ripple in space time that will be detected by LIGO and VIRGO. Upon detection of a gravitational wave a probability map will be created, this shows where in the sky we expect to see the explosion. GOTO will follow-up this alert by tiling the sky in the probability regions. (Shown below is an example of how GOTO does this, however the telescope used here was Super-WASP)
The explosion we're looking for is called a kilonova. These are short duration (a few days to a week) events, that peak in the optical or near-infrared. Recently, it was confirmed that kilonovae are responsible for most of the heavy elements in the universe. This confirmation was made shortly after the discovery of the first neutron star merger. GOTO's wide field of view and low latency makes it optimal to search for these transient explosions.
Artists impression of a Kilonova after a neutron star merger
Aside from looking for Gravitational Wave counterparts, GOTO offers the oppurtunity for a lot of secondary science. Being a wide field high cadence survey, we will see all of sky. This means other time domain astronomy can be tested. Cataclysmic variables, Supernoave, Asteroids, Comets, GRB follow-up, are just a few additional interests of the GOTO collaboration.