Four Pi Sky is a project led by Professor Rob Fender at Oxford University Astrophysics


Extreme astrophysical events – such as relativistic flows, cataclysmic explosions and black hole accretion – are a key area for astrophysics in the 21 st century. The extremes of physics – density, temperature, pressure, velocity, gravitational and magnetic fields – experienced in these environments are beyond anything achievable in any laboratory on Earth, and provide a unique glimpse at the laws of physics operating in extraordinary regimes. All of these events are associated with transient radio emission, a tracer both of the acceleration of particles to relativistic (TeV) energies, and coherent emitting regions with effective temperatures in excess of 1035 K.


By studying radio bursts from these phenomena we can pinpoint the sources of explosive events, understand the budget of kinetic feedback by such events in the ambient medium, and probe the physical state of the universe back to the epoch of reionisation, less than a billion years after the big bang. In seeking to push back the frontiers of extreme astrophysics, we are using a revolutionary new radio telescopes, such as LOFAR, MeerKAT and the newly-roboticised AMI-LA. We are building an infrastructure which transforms their combined operations for the discovery, classification and reporting of transient astrophysical events, over the whole sky, making them much more than the sum of their parts. This will include development of environments for the coordinated handling of extreme astrophysical events, in real time, via automated systems, as well as novel techniques for the detection of these events in a sea of noise. We augment this program by collaborating with other facilities operating in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Put together, this program can revolutionise high-energy astrophysics, producing automated identification and follow-up, arsecond localisation, optical spectra and X-ray fluxes of many thousands of extreme transients, and disseminating them to the community in real time. This program is called 4 pi sky, reflecting the all-sky coverage of extreme astrophysics.




4 PI SKY is funded primarily  by European Research Council Advanced Investigator Grant 267697, as well as by EU Marie Curie Actions


Areas of research

Software development

Development of novel techniques for transient detection in both images and time series, development of enhanced Virtual Observatory (VO) alert and communications protocols, and application to LOFAR, MeerKAT and ASKAP.

Multiwavelength coordination

Acquisition and management of large amounts of optical and X-ray follow-up time. We have close ties with the MAXI X-ray all sky monitor onboard the International Space Station, and also have resources for optical telescope time. Expertise in optical and X-ray astronomy is an essential ingredient of the science of 4 Pi Sky.

Scientific exploitation

Research and understanding of what we see – the ultimate goals. Key targets include black hole accretion – understanding the coupling between accretion states and kinetic feedback, and extragalactic radio transients – using them to probe the universe on the largest scales.



Project lead:  Rob Fender

4 PI Postdocs: Tim Staley, Jess Broderick, Gemma Anderson, Tony Rushton

Glasstone Fellow: Sara Motta

Hintze Fellow: Kunal Mooley

Marie Curie Fellow: Retha Pretorius

4 PI PhDs: Adam Stewart, Gosia Pietka, Aidan Glennie

Previous 4 PI members include: Rene Breton (Manchester), Teo Munoz-Darias (IAC), Mari Kolehmainen (Strasbourg), Tom Hassall and Dan Plant (lost to the private sector…)


Some members of the team enjoying lunch, Feb 2014