Professor Akerlof is the leader of the ROTSE collaboration (Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment), an international effort to observe the prompt optical counterpart of gamma-ray bursts and other transients. Gamma-ray bursts are mysterious explosions at cosmological distances that produce prodigious fluxes of gamma rays but their source and nature is quite elusive. By making optical identifications, the researchers are gaining a considerably better understanding of one of astrophysics’ most perplexing problems. A major milestone was achieved in January 1999 when a violent optical outburst was recorded contemporaneously with gamma-ray emission. The collaboration is currently operating a global array of 0.45-meter aperture telescopes at the McDonald Observatory in Texas, the Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran, Australia, the HESS gamma-ray observatory near Mt. Gamsberg in Namibia and the Turkish National Observatory near Antalya, Turkey. The ROTSE instruments can respond within less than 10 seconds to burst coordinates supplied by space missions such as HETE-2 and SWIFT while continuously monitoring the night sky for a variety of other transient phenomena. This research is performed in collaboration with physicists and astrophysicists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of Texas, the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia), the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics (Heidelberg, Germany), and a number of universities in Turkey.
In pursuit of even fainter optical transients, Akerlof has designed and installed an auxiliary imaging camera for the 3.67-meter AEOS telescope at the Air Force satellite tracking station on Mt. Haleakala, Maui. With response times of the order of 60 seconds, this unique instrument may help solve the mystery of why only half of all gamma-ray bursts are currently optically detectable. The observation program with the AEOS Burst Camera (ABC) is now in progress.
Professor Akerlof is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
The ROTSE-III Robotic Telescope System, (C. W. Akerlof, M. C. B. Ashley, D. E. Casperson, H. W. Epps, R. L. Kehoe, S. L. Marshall, K. E. McGowan, T. A. McKay, M. A. Phillips, E. S. Rykoff, J. A. Schier, D. A. Smith, W. T. Vestrand, P. R. Wozniak, J. A. Wren), PASP 115, (2003).
Observation of Contemporaneous Optical Radiation from a g-ray Burst, (C. Akerlof, R. Balsano, S. Barthelmy, J. Bloch, P. Butterworth, D. Casperson, T. Cline, S. Fletcher, F. Frontera, G. Gisler, J. Heise, J. Hills, R. Kehoe, B. Lee, S. Marshall, T. McKay, R. Miller, L. Piro, W. Priedhorsky, S. Szymanski, and J. Wren), Nature 398, 400-402 (1999).
Gamma-Ray Astronomy with Imaging Atmospheric Cerenkov Telescopes, (Felix A. Aharonian, Carl W. Akerlof), Annu. Rev. Nucl. Part. Sci. 47, 273-314 (1997).
Possible Gravitational Microlensing of a Star in the Large Magellanic Cloud, (C. Alcock, C. Akerlof, R. Allsman, T. Axelrod, D. Bennett, S. Chan, K. Cook, K. Freeman, K. Griest, S. Marshall, H-S. Park, S. Perlmutter, B. Peterson, M. Pratt, P. Quinn, A. Rodgers, C. Stubbs, W. Sutherland) Nature 365, 621-623 (1993).