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Eclipsing binary stars as cutting edge laboratories for astrophysics of stellar
structure, stellar evolution and planet formation

Final Report Summary - BLAST (Eclipsing binary stars as cutting edge laboratories for astrophysics of stellarstructure, stellar evolution and planet formation)

The first goal of project was to search for circumbinary companions (planetary and stellar) around eclipsing binary stars (i.e. star systems where each star orbits around the common center of mass, provoking eclipses as we see them from Earth) using state-of-the-art techniques such as eclipse timing and precision radial velocities. The second goal of the project was to characterize the binary stars with an unprecedented precision for a large sample of stars and test the stellar structure and evolution models of stars. To accomplish this task, a network of four fully autonomous observatories has been deployed in the Southern Hemisphere: Solaris-1 and Solaris-2 in the South African Astronomical Observatory in South Africa, Solaris-3 in Siding Spring Observatory in Australia and Solaris-4 in Complejo Astronomico El Leoncito in Argentina. One of the telescopes in South Africa was additionally equipped with a small but very capable (high throughput) medium resolution echelle spectrograph. The establishment of the network was a massive operation which in the time frame Spring 2011 – Spring 2014, took over 1200 person days at these observatories. The entire network has become operational in the Spring of 2014. Up to date it provided over 1.8 million images of the sky for nearly 300 different objects (mostly eclipsing binary stars), over 64 TB of reduced data. As a necessary complement, a large spectroscopic survey of nearly 400 eclipsing binary stars was carried out. In our survey we have made use of a total of 12 spectrographs mounted on 11 telescopes. In the years 2011-2016, we have been granted 253 nights of observations and obtained nearly 4000 high resolution echelle spectra of our targets. To the best our knowledge, this constitutes the largest high resolution spectroscopic survey of a sample of eclipsing binary stars. These efforts have resulted in a number of papers, many others in preparation, on topics ranging from hardware and software development, application of robotic telescopes to space surveillance and tracking to stellar astronomy.
Instrumental projects, such as ours are mainly engineering undertakings during the design and construction phases. Although most components of our observatories are off-the-shelf devices, their integration requires significant effort that builds expertise. If properly managed and financed, this know-how can gain commercial value. Several products or ideas that have been developed for or stem from the project have reached a level of maturity that allowed them to be commercialized via spin-out companies, Sybilla Technologies and Cillium Engineering, that were established by the project’s team members. These products include the Abot software suite that runs the entire network, 2PiSky, the embedded cloud monitoring system, ObservatoryWatch, the PLC supervision system and several smaller software and hardware components that have been found to have market value as parts of larger systems. We believe that this is the proper way of running scientific instrumental projects, even in astrophysics, that initially seem not to have commercializable value. In fact, this approach brings benefit to the scientific part of the undertaking when financing of the project ceases. When this happens, further development is still possible thanks to private funding and cooperation with industry partners that initially derived from the scientific project.