About LCO

Our Mission

To advance our understanding of the universe through science and education with our unique global telescope network.


Why LCO is Unique

Purpose-built to observe transient astronomical events. Transients are astronomical phenomena whose duration can range from seconds to several years.

A global distribution of telescopes. The spread of telescopes around the world greatly increases the opportunities to observe all astronomical events; and transient events can be targeted immediately. The light from celestial objects can be sampled with greater frequency and for longer durations when observations are passed from one telescope to the next.

Dynamic observation scheduling. At the heart of LCO operations sits an amazing bit of artificial intelligence called the scheduler. Working without human intervention—which would only slow it down—LCO’s internet-based scheduler takes requests for observations from scientists and education observers, analyzes everything from competing requests and conditions at each telescope site, directs individual telescopes to make the desired observations, and compiles the results. Scientists can make requests for observations at any time as the scheduler updates the entire network plan about every 5 minutes.

Uniform instrumentation across the network. Duplicate instruments increase the likelihood of acquiring an observation and also allow events to be observed simultaneously from multiple telescopes.

Fully robotic operations. The network operates around-the-clock. Calibration observations are made during daytime; science observations are acquired at night. Observing schedules are stored at site, so telescopes can continue observing even when an external link is interrupted.

Rapid delivery of data. Within minutes of the camera shutter closing at the telescope, the science data are calibrated and sent to the science archive for retrieval by the scientists.


Excellence in Science

World-class science enabled by Las Cumbres Observatory.

Excellence in Engineering

The unique mechanical, electrical, and software acheivements bring LCO to life.

Excellence in Education

Innovative, scalable and sustainable education projects using LCO's robotic telescopes

History

The Las Cumbres Observatory global telescope network was founded in 2005 by the technologist Wayne Rosing. LCO is a non-profit science institute with the mission of advancing science and education. We approached the creation of our worldwide network of robotic telescopes from the perspective of a lean high-tech startup. LCO initially acquired the two Faulkes two-meter telescopes: Faulkes Telescope North located at Haleakala Observatory, on Maui, Hawaii, and Faulkes Telescope South at Siding Spring Observatory (SSO), in eastern Australia. LCO also purchased the company that built the Faulkes telescopes, Telescope Technologies Limited of Liverpool, with the intent of installing additional 2-meter telescopes at different sites to form a robotically operated network. Rosing and the LCO staff came to understand that a network composed of many smaller telescopes would provide greater observing capacity. LCO designed its own one-meter and 40-cm telescopes to be distributed at multiple sites.

During 2012 and 2013, nine one-meter telescopes were constructed and deployed to McDonald Observatory at Fort Davis, Texas; Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO) in Chile; South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), near Sutherland, South Africa; and SSO in Australia. Full operations of Las Cumbres Observatory began May 1, 2014. From 2015-2017, seven 40-cm telescopes were deployed to CTIO, Haleakala Observatory, SSO, and to Teide Observatory on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. In 2017, the Tel Aviv University WISE Observatory joined the network with the installation of an LCO high-resolution spectrograph (NRES) at the site. In 2019 a second one-meter telescope was deployed at McDonald Observatory, bringing the one-meter network to a total of eleven telescopes. Two more one-meter telescopes are under construction and will be installed at Teide Observatory in 2021.

Efficiency and high productivity are hallmarks of the LCO staff. A small group of distinguished astronomers and engineers direct network operations. Operations are based in our global headquarters in Goleta, California, with a small number of staff at offices in Australia, Hawaii, and the United Kingdom.

Governance

About our external guidance and oversight.