We think of the night sky as peaceful and unchanging, but the Universe is in fact a violent and dynamic place.
Astronomers trying to understand the Universe must study how stars and galaxies change over time. However, on most professional telescopes, observing time is very difficult to get and must be booked for whole nights, many months in advance. As a result, it can be difficult to watch how objects vary over many nights, or even weeks, and you can miss sudden events altogether.
Robotic telescopes are not limited in this way. Each night the telescope can make short observations of many objects for many different astronomers, and if something exciting happens, it can get images very quickly.
Some areas where this will be particularly important are:
Sometimes things in astronomy happen very fast. For example, supernovae are enormously powerful exploding stars that can become millions of times brighter in a matter of days, before slowly fading away again. A robotic telescope is vital to get information about the early stages, and it can then return on a regular basis to monitor how the brightness changes over the course of the next few months.
This picture above shows two images of the same region of sky a few days after and before a supernova in 1987. Over the course of a couple of nights, a seemingly insignificant star became the brightest object in its galaxy.
Many objects in the sky, from stars to the most distant and powerful galaxies, vary on many time scales, from less than a second to many years or longer. Gaining an understanding of this variability can yield important clues to the underlying physics that is driving it. Again, the flexibility of robotic telescopes allows astronomers to study objects over all time scales.
When a new object such as a comet or an asteroid is discovered, it is important to get high-quality, carefully timed observations in order to work out its exact path, and whether it might prove a problem in years to come. A large robotic telescope is ideal for making such measurements as quickly and efficiently as possible.