24-eyed telescope takes full-sky movies every night

Wide-eyed array in Chile scopes changes in the southern sky


EYES ON THE SKY  Engineers finished installing the Evryscope in northern Chile in May. The 24-eyed instrument has since been snapping pictures every two minutes on nights with clear weather.

N. Law/Evryscope collaboration

HONOLULU — The Evryscope might look like an upside down colander repurposed as a set piece for Star Trek. But its actual purpose is to make a movie of the entire southern sky.

“People think it looks strange,” says Nicholas Law, an astrophysicist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, “but it’s doing what it’s designed to do.”

Because a typical telescope has a narrow range of view, using one is like studying the universe through a drinking straw. But every two minutes the Chile-based Evryscope, with 24 telescopes working as one, images a patch of sky so wide it would take 32,000 full moons to cover it.

The Evryscope has stockpiled about 250,000 such images since it started filming in May, Law reported August 5 at a meeting of the International Astronomical Union.

Tracking the entire sky through time, stopping only for bad weather and sunrises, lets the Evryscope see things that other telescopes might miss. Supernova discoveries, for example, typically go only to those lucky few who happened to be looking in the right direction at the right time. This mushroom-shaped telescope, however, can hunt for anything that fades, flashes or flickers in the night, from planets crossing in front of their suns to stars exploding in other galaxies.

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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