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Fri Dec 18, 2020

GOTO presentations at SPIE

This week GOTO postdoctoral researcher and control system guru Martin Dyer presented two papers at the (virtual) SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instumentation 2020 meeting. Like many 2020 meetings, this one had a challenging path to actually occurring, moving twice (from to Japan to California) and finally to the fully online format.

Martin's first paper offers a brief summary of the project, describing the hardware, software and future plans including the new "GOTO-South" node to be constructed at Siding Spring Observatory, NSW. The second paper describes development of the "G-TeCS" control system, which was much of Martin's thesis project, and serves as the critical "nervous system" of the facility, without which we could not operate.

Labels: 2020, /meetings

Tue Oct 20, 2020

Keeping the "beat" of nuclear burning

Millihertz quasi-periodic oscillations (mHz QPOs) observed in neutron-star low-mass X-ray binaries are generally thought to arise from "marginally stable" thermonuclear burning, at the upper limit of accretion rates where thermonuclear bursts are possible. A long-standing puzzle is that they seem to occur at accretion rates about an order of magnitude lower than predicted theoretically, and while bursts are still occurring.

Since no-one knows how you can simultaneously have (quasi-) stable and unstable burning on the surface of a neutron star (except perhaps Yuri Cavecchi), we'd dearly like to better understand this phenomenon. Monash PhD student Ka Ho Tse discovered a new example of mHz QPOs, in the transient 1RXS J180408.9—342058. While the properties of the newly-discovered oscillations are similar to the other seven examples, we now have a good sample of objects to examine the properties and compare against (for example) numerical models. Ka Ho's preliminary work suggests the observed amplitude is much higher than would be predicted theoretically, which presents a challenge for the conventional interpretation.

His paper describing the discovery, and exploring some of the implications for the phenomenon across all sources, has now been published by MNRAS.

Read the paper (MNRAS 500, 34—39, 2021)

Labels: 2020, /postgrads

Mon Jun 08, 2020

Observing outburst onset in a low-mass X-ray binary

SAX J1808.4—3658 is the first accretion-powered millisecond pulsar ever discovered, and still one of the best-studied, thanks to a quasi-regular series of outbursts since 1996. Based on the regularity of the outbursts, I'd predicted that it would return to activity in 2019 May. This prediction was a bit off, as it turned out, since we didn't hear a peep out of it until late July in the same year. Even so, thanks to the prediction and a series of optical and X-ray observations led by Monash PhD student Adelle Goodwin, we gathered data giving a view of the outburst onset of unprecedented detail.

Adelle presented her work at the 236th AAS meeting last week, and also took part in a press event the same day. Our press release got picked up and distributed widely, at space.com, Science Daily,, phys.org,, CNET and even Nine news. Adelle also appeared on RRR's Einstein-a-go-go show and was interviewed by a number of other outlets.

On the science side, the unexpectedly long delay of 12d between the optical and X-ray activity may have implications for the most widely-accepted model which explains how these outbursts are triggered. Adelle's paper on the study has been submitted to MNRAS.

And the next outburst? You'll have to wait until 2023 November — or perhaps even later.

Read the paper arXiv:2006.02872

Labels: 2020, /pulsars

Thu Apr 30, 2020

MINBAR paper accepted!

In late February we submitted the paper describing data release 1 (DR1) of the Multi-Instrument Burst Archive (MINBAR) to Astrophysical Journal Supplements. In a remakably quick turnaround we got a referee's report in less than a month, and the lightly revised version of the paper is now accepted!

Accompanying the paper is the online repository hosted at Monash's Bridges (formerly figshare) service. Here you can download the ASCCI files with the complete contents of the catalog, and (in future) will also provide links to software used to access and analyse the data.

Another way to access the data is via the web interface at burst.sci.monash.edu, which allows basic searching and plotting facility, and you can download subsets of the data for offline analysis too.

Read the paper (arXiv:2003.00685)

Labels: 2020, /thermonuclear bursts

Fri Apr 17, 2020

Multi-epoch model-observation burst comparisons for GS 1826—238

The "Clocked burster", GS 1826—238 is one of the best studied burst sources, due to it's (mostly) consistent and regular bursts. However there's long been some uncertainty about the fuel composition, with some studies suggesting metal-rich fuel, and others metal-poor. (Here by "metals" we mean an even more restrictive set than usually meant by astronomers, of the CNO nuclei that contribute to steady H-burning prior to ignition).

Now Monash PhD graduate Zac Johnston has resolved this uncertainty, with the most comprehensive observation-model comparison to date. He assembled a grid of almost 4000 KEPLER runs and performed a comparison to the observational data, via a novel interpolation scheme which speeds up the calculations by many orders of magnitude. His results confirm the "metal rich" scenario, and also provide constraints on the source distance and system inclination. His paper was just accepted by MNRAS. If you want to do your own burst comparisons, you can also check out the simulation grid data.

Read the paper (arXiv:1909.07977)

Labels: 2020, /postgrads

Wed Mar 25, 2020

Monash suspends all on-campus activities

Due to the growing COVID-19 crisis, Monash University has suspended all on-campus activities. From this point we'll be working and teaching from home, until further notice.

Labels: 2020, /teaching