Zwicky Transient Facility Opens Its Eyes to the Volatile Cosmos

A new robotic camera with the ability to capture hundreds of thousands of stars and galaxies in a single shot has taken its first image of the sky, an event astronomers refer to as "first light."

The recently installed camera is part of a new automated sky-survey project called the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), based at Caltech's Palomar Observatory located in the mountains near San Diego. Every night, ZTF will scan a large portion of the Northern sky, discovering objects that erupt or vary in brightness, including exploding stars (also known as supernovas), stars being munched on by black holes, and asteroids and comets.

"There's a lot of activity happening in our night skies," says Shrinivas (“Shri”) Kulkarni, the principal investigator of ZTF and the George Ellery Hale Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Science at Caltech. "In fact, every second, somewhere in the universe, there's a supernova that's exploding. Of course, we can't see them all, but with ZTF we will see up to tens of thousands of explosive transients every year over the three-year lifetime of the project."