Toward a continuous record of the sky

Document Type


Publication Date



It is currently feasible to start a continuous digital record of the entire sky sensitive to any visual magnitude brighter than 15 each night. Such a record could be created with a modest array of small telescopes, collectively generating no more than a few gigabytes of data daily. Alternatively, a few small telescopes could continually repoint to scan and record the entire sky down to any visual magnitude brighter than 15 with a recurrence epoch of at most a few weeks, again always generating less than 1 Gbyte of data each night. These estimates derive from CCD ability and budgets typical of university research projects. As a prototype, we have developed and are utilizing an inexpensive single-telescope system that obtains optical data from about 1500 deg2. We discuss the general case of creating and storing data from both an epochal survey, in which a small number of telescopes continually scan the sky, and a continuous survey, composed of a constellation of telescopes each dedicated to continually inspect a designated section of the sky. We compute specific limitations of canonical surveys in visible light, and estimate that all-sky continuous visual light surveys could be sensitive to magnitude 20 in a single night by about 2010. Possible scientific returns of continuous and epochal sky surveys include continued monitoring of most known variable stars, establishing case histories for variables of future interest, uncovering new forms of stellar variability, discovering the brightest cases of microlensing, discovering new novae and supernovae, discovering new counterparts to gamma-ray bursts, monitoring known solar system objects, discovering new solar system objects, and discovering objects that might strike the Earth.

Publication Title

Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific