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  1. Abstract

    Light echoes (LEs) are the reflections of astrophysical transients off of interstellar dust. They are fascinating astronomical phenomena that enable studies of the scattering dust as well as of the original transients. LEs, however, are rare and extremely difficult to detect as they appear as faint, diffuse, time-evolving features. The detection of LEs still largely relies on human inspection of images, a method unfeasible in the era of large synoptic surveys. The Vera C. Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) will generate an unprecedented amount of astronomical imaging data at high spatial resolution, exquisite image quality, and over tens of thousands of square degrees of sky: an ideal survey for LEs. However, the Rubin data processing pipelines are optimized for the detection of point sources and will entirely miss LEs. Over the past several years, artificial intelligence (AI) object-detection frameworks have achieved and surpassed real-time, human-level performance. In this work, we leverage a data set from the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System telescope to test a popular AI object-detection framework, You Only Look Once, or YOLO, developed by the computer-vision community, to demonstrate the potential of AI for the detection of LEs in astronomical images. Wemore »find that an AI framework can reach human-level performance even with a size- and quality-limited data set. We explore and highlight challenges, including class imbalance and label incompleteness, and road map the work required to build an end-to-end pipeline for the automated detection and study of LEs in high-throughput astronomical surveys.

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  2. Abstract

    Current and future optical and near-infrared wide-field surveys have the potential to find kilonovae, the optical and infrared counterparts to neutron star mergers, independently of gravitational-wave or high-energy gamma-ray burst triggers. The ability to discover fast and faint transients such as kilonovae largely depends on the area observed, the depth of those observations, the number of revisits per field in a given time frame, and the filters adopted by the survey; it also depends on the ability to perform rapid follow-up observations to confirm the nature of the transients. In this work, we assess kilonova detectability in existing simulations of the Legacy Survey of Space and Time strategy for the Vera C. Rubin Wide Fast Deep survey, with focus on comparing rolling to baseline cadences. Although currently available cadences can enable the detection of >300 kilonovae out to ∼1400 Mpc over the 10 year survey, we can expect only 3–32 kilonovae similar to GW170817 to be recognizable as fast-evolving transients. We also explore the detectability of kilonovae over the plausible parameter space, focusing on viewing angle and ejecta masses. We find that observations in redderizybands are crucial for identification of nearby (within 300 Mpc) kilonovae that could be spectroscopicallymore »classified more easily than more distant sources. Rubin’s potential for serendipitous kilonova discovery could be increased by gain of efficiency with the employment of individual 30 s exposures (as opposed to 2 × 15 s snap pairs), with the addition of red-band observations coupled with same-night observations ingorrbands, and possibly with further development of a new rolling-cadence strategy.

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  3. Unlike the vast majority of astrophysical plasmas, the solar wind is accessible to spacecraft, which for decades have carried in-situ instruments for directly measuring its particles and fields. Though such measurements provide precise and detailed information, a single spacecraft on its own cannot disentangle spatial and temporal fluctuations. Even a modest constellation of in-situ spacecraft, though capable of characterizing fluctuations at one or more scales, cannot fully determine the plasma’s 3-D structure. We describe here a concept for a new mission, the Magnetic Topology Reconstruction Explorer (MagneToRE), that would comprise a large constellation of in-situ spacecraft and would, for the first time, enable 3-D maps to be reconstructed of the solar wind’s dynamic magnetic structure. Each of these nanosatellites would be based on the CubeSat form-factor and carry a compact fluxgate magnetometer. A larger spacecraft would deploy these smaller ones and also serve as their telemetry link to the ground and as a host for ancillary scientific instruments. Such an ambitious mission would be feasible under typical funding constraints thanks to advances in the miniaturization of spacecraft and instruments and breakthroughs in data science and machine learning.
  4. Abstract Vera C. Rubin Observatory is a ground-based astronomical facility under construction, a joint project of the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, designed to conduct a multipurpose 10 yr optical survey of the Southern Hemisphere sky: the Legacy Survey of Space and Time. Significant flexibility in survey strategy remains within the constraints imposed by the core science goals of probing dark energy and dark matter, cataloging the solar system, exploring the transient optical sky, and mapping the Milky Way. The survey’s massive data throughput will be transformational for many other astrophysics domains and Rubin’s data access policy sets the stage for a huge community of potential users. To ensure that the survey science potential is maximized while serving as broad a community as possible, Rubin Observatory has involved the scientific community at large in the process of setting and refining the details of the observing strategy. The motivation, history, and decision-making process of this strategy optimization are detailed in this paper, giving context to the science-driven proposals and recommendations for the survey strategy included in this Focus Issue.
  5. Abstract

    The discovery of the electromagnetic counterpart to the binary neutron star (NS) merger GW170817 has opened the era of gravitational-wave multimessenger astronomy. Rapid identification of the optical/infrared kilonova enabled a precise localization of the source, which paved the way to deep multiwavelength follow-up and its myriad of related science results. Fully exploiting this new territory of exploration requires the acquisition of electromagnetic data from samples of NS mergers and other gravitational-wave sources. After GW170817, the frontier is now to map the diversity of kilonova properties and provide more stringent constraints on the Hubble constant, and enable new tests of fundamental physics. The Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time can play a key role in this field in the 2020s, when an improved network of gravitational-wave detectors is expected to reach a sensitivity that will enable the discovery of a high rate of merger events involving NSs (∼tens per year) out to distances of several hundred megaparsecs. We design comprehensive target-of-opportunity observing strategies for follow-up of gravitational-wave triggers that will make the Rubin Observatory the premier instrument for discovery and early characterization of NS and other compact-object mergers, and yet unknown classes of gravitational-wave events.