Commissioning of the Palomar Transient Factory, which combines imaging with rapid data analysis and follow-up by other telescopes, is to be completed this month. “We will search for objects which change on the time scale of minutes, hours, and days,” says PTF principal investigator Shrinivas Kulkarni of Caltech. The PTF has already discovered more than 40 super-novae since first light last December.

Located at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in Southern California, the PTF’s wide-field-of-view camera, which is mounted on a 1.2-m optical telescope, piles up more than 100 gigabytes of data each night. As they’re collected, those data are sent by a high-speed microwave connection to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where they are immediately compared with previous images.

“The 1.2-meter is a discovery engine. It finds approximately one transient object every 17 minutes,” Kulkarni says. Data on transients found in the computerized analysis are returned to Palomar, where a 1.5-m telescope...

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