PIRATE: A Remotely Operable Telescope Facility for Research and Education
We introduce PIRATE, a new remotely operable telescope facility for use in research and education, constructed from off-the-shelf hardware, operated by The Open University. We focus on the PIRATE Mark 1 operational phase, in which PIRATE was equipped with a widely used 0.35 m Schmidt-Cassegrain system (now replaced with a 0.425 m corrected Dall-Kirkham astrograph). Situated at the Observatori Astronòmic de Mallorca, PIRATE is currently used to follow up potential transiting extrasolar planet candidates produced by the SuperWASP North experiment, as well as to hunt for novae in M31 and other nearby galaxies. It is operated by a mixture of commercially available software and proprietary software developed at the Open University. We discuss problems associated with performing precision time-series photometry when using a German Equatorial Mount, investigating the overall performance of such off-the-shelf solutions in both research and teaching applications. We conclude that PIRATE is a cost-effective research facility, and it also provides exciting prospects for undergraduate astronomy. PIRATE has broken new ground in offering practical astronomy education to distance-learning students in their own homes.