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Boër, M., Thiebaut, C., Buchholtz, G., Melchior, A.-L., Pennypaker, C., Isaac, M., & Ebisuzaki, T. 2001, in ASP Conf. Ser., Vol. 238, Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems X, eds. F. R. Harnden, Jr., F. A. Primini, & H. E. Payne (San Francisco: ASP), 111

Hands-On TAROT: Intercontinental Use of the TAROT for Education and Public Outreach

Michel Boër, Carole Thiebaut, Alain Klotz
Centre d'Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements (CESR/CNRS), BP 4346, F 31028 Toulouse Cedex 4 France

G. Buchholtz
Institut National des Sciences de l'Univers, Division Technique (CNRS), Meudon, France

A.-L. Melchior
DEMIRM/CNRS, Observatoire de Paris, France

C. Pennypaker, M. Isaac
University of California at Berkeley, USA

Toshikazu Ebisuzaki
RIKEN, Tokyo, Japan


The TAROT telescope has for primary goal the search for the prompt optical counterpart of cosmic Gamma-Ray Bursts. It is a completely autonomous 25cm telescope installed near Nice (France), able to point to any location of the sky within 1-2 seconds. The control, scheduling, and data processing activities are completely automated. In addition to its un-manned modes, we added recently the possibility to control the telescope remotely, as a request of the ``Hands-On Universe'' (HOU) program of using automatic telescopes for education and public outreach. To this purpose we developed a simple control interface. A webcam was installed to visualize the telescope. Access to the data is possible through a web interface. The images can be processed by the HOU software, a program specially suited for use within the classroom. We used these feature during the open days of the University of California Berkeley and the Astronomy Festival of Fleurance (France). We plan regular use for an astronomy course of the Museum of Tokyo, as well as for French schools. Not only does Hands-On TAROT gives the general public access to professional astronomy, it is also a more general tool to demonstrate the use of a complex automated system, the techniques of data processing and automation. Last but not least, through the use of telescopes located in many countries over the globe, a powerful and genuine cooperation between teachers and children from various countries is promoted, with a clear educational goal.

1. Introduction

There have been several attempts at using astronomical data in the classroom, in general within the framework of physics, mathematics, and/or astronomy courses. Using directly a telescope in the college backyard has many advantages, mainly that children themselves practice astronomy with a telescope. However, several problems may arise:

To that purpose, the Hands-On Universe program (Pennypaker et al. 1998; Boër et al. 2001) has been initiated to use astronomical data within the classroom. Telescope time is exchanged within the HOU network, in order to enable the use various telescopes over the world. Most of them may be remotely controlled, allowing them to be used at night.

2. TAROT, an autonomous observatory

The prime objective of the Télescope à Action Rapide pour les Objets Transitoires (TAROT; Boër et al. 1999; Boër et al. 2000;, is the real time observation of cosmic Gamma-Ray Bursts (hereafter GRBs). TAROT is a 25cm telescope, with a full autonomous control system, and able to point to any location over the sky within 1-2 seconds. Figure 1 displays the functional diagram of TAROT. In normal operations, the MAJORDOME (Bringer et al. 2000) computes the schedule and sends observation requests to the Telescope Control System, which takes care of the various housekeeping, points the telescope, and activates the CCD Camera. As soon as the data are taken, they are pre-processed, with dark, bias, and flat-field subtraction, cosmic ray removal, astrometric reduction, and a source list is built. The requests for observations are now sent via the web. Should a GRB alert occur (from the HETE-2 satellite), the present observation is interrupted, and the telescope slews immediately to the position of the GRB source.

Figure 1: Functional modules and external interfaces of TAROT.

The interfaces with the users, beside the ``alert'' connection with the GCN, are as follows:

3. Discussion

We tested the various TAROT user interfaces at several public demonstrations. They proved to be very reliable. During the day, the presence of a webcam enables the user to see the immediate reaction of an instrument located at several hundreds or thousands kilometers from him. At night, images are available through the web within one or two minutes, on a page which includes the image in JPEG format, and the FITS header. Optionally, the sources from the USNO A2.0 catalog can be superimposed on the image (Thiébaut & Boër 2001), an asteroid chart can be requested, and the DSS can be extracted using a preformatted SKYVIEW query.

Since the prime goal of TAROT is doing science, we still prefer that users from schools either use frames from the scientific program (including frames acquired during the last night), or send requests to the batch interface, reserving the direct remote interface for demonstration purposes during the day or at night. We plan also to enhance this interface par allowing the MAJORDOME to schedule in advance the blocks of nights allowed for a use in direct access mode.

We found also that what seems evident to the astronomer has to be explained to general audiences, e.g., phenomena like saturation of frames, angles expressed in hours, and that a telescope located in the northern hemisphere has some difficulties to look at e.g., the Magellanic Clouds (this has also to be explained to several astronomers), or that the accessible sources in the sky vary from winter to summer. To cope with these last points, we plan to have a more interactive and pedagogical interface. In any case, this exercise of porting a system devoted to a somewhat specialized audience to the general public proved to be a very interesting and rewarding adventure for the TAROT team.


The TAROT program is funded by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Institut National des Sciences de l'Univers (CNRS/INSU).


Boër, M., et al. 1999, A&AS, 138, 579

Boër, M., et al. 2000, in ASP Conf. Ser., Vol. 216, Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems IX, ed. N. Manset, C. Veillet, & D. Crabtree (San Francisco: ASP), 115

Boër, M., et al. 2001, this volume, 103

Bringer, M., et al. 2000, Experimental Astrophysics, submitted

Pennypaker, C., et al. 1998, in Proceedings of the Misato International Symposium on Astronomical Education with the Internet, ed. M. Okyudo, T. Ebisuzaki, & M. Nakayama (Tokyo: Universal Academic Press, Inc), 45

Thiebaut, C. & Boër, M. 2001, this volume, 388

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