Design and operation of the ATLAS transient science server

K. W. Smith, S. J. Smartt, D. R. Young, J. L. Tonry, L. Denneau, H. Flewelling, A. N. Heinze, H. J. Weiland, B. Stalder, A. Rest, C. W. Stubbs, J. P. Anderson, T. W. Chen, P. Clark, A. Do, F. Förster, M. Fulton, J. Gillanders, O. R. McBrien, D. O’neillS. Srivastav, D. E. Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
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The Asteroid Terrestrial impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) system consists of two 0.5 m Schmidt telescopes with cameras covering 29 square degrees at plate scale of 1.86 arcsec per pixel. Working in tandem, the telescopes routinely survey the whole sky visible from Hawaii (above d >-50°) every two nights, exposing four times per night, typically reaching o < 19 magnitude per exposure when the moon is illuminated and c < 19.5 magnitude per exposure in dark skies. Construction is underway of two further units to be sited in Chile and South Africa which will result in an all-sky daily cadence from 2021. Initially designed for detecting potentially hazardous near earth objects, the ATLAS data enable a range of astrophysical time domain science. To extract transients from the data stream requires a computing system to process the data, assimilate detections in time and space and associate them with known astrophysical sources. Here we describe the hardware and software infrastructure to produce a stream of clean, real, astrophysical transients in real time. This involves machine learning and boosted decision tree algorithms to identify extragalactic and Galactic transients. Typically we detect 10–15 supernova candidates per night which we immediately announce publicly. The ATLAS discoveries not only enable rapid follow-up of interesting sources but will provide complete statistical samples within the local volume of 100 Mpc. A simple comparison of the detected supernova rate within 100 Mpc, with no corrections for completeness, is already significantly higher (factor 1.5 to 2) than the current accepted rates.

Original languageEnglish
Article number085002
Number of pages22
JournalPublications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Issue number1014
Early online date23 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work has made use of data from the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) project. ATLAS is primarily funded to search for near earth asteroids through NASA grants NN12AR55G, 80NSSC18K0284, and 80NSSC18K1575 (under the guidance of Lindley Johnson and Kelly Fast); byproducts of the NEO search include images and catalogs from the survey area. The ATLAS science products have been made possible through the contributions of the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, the Queen?s University Belfast, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and the South African Astronomical Observatory. We acknowledge support for transient science exploitation from the EU FP7/2007?2013 ERC Grant agreement No. [291222], STFC Grants ST/ P000312/1, ST/N002520/1, ST/S006109/1 and support from the QUB Kelvin HPC cluster, and the QUB International Engagement Fund. TWC acknowledges EU Funding under Marie Sk?odowska-Curie grant agreement No. 842471.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific Printed in the U.S.A.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Asteroids
  • Minor planets
  • Supernovae
  • Surveys
  • Variable stars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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