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"SF is a controlled way to think and dream about the future."
- Gregory Benford

Robot Observatory  
  A fully automated astronomical observatory, placed on a planet (typically, one that does not support human life).  

THE NEXT two weeks flew by with unwonted rapidity, and Riggs found himself assigned, as he had been informed in advance he would be, to one of the ships in the Service Fleet, or, as it was familiarly known in the Patrol, the “ Little Fleet.” The name was derived from the fact that each member of the Service Fleet had the adjective “Little” prefixed to its name. Riggs’ ship was the Little Falls, laden with fuel for the atomic motors of the robot observatories planted on thirty different planets of several nearby suns, and a huge supply of photographic plates to replenish the nearly exhausted magazines of the telescopic cameras.

Placed in many cases on planets where men could not have survived continued existence, the observatories on the planets of the nearer stars were serviced once every three terrestrial years. The exposed plates from the telescopes were removed, developed in the service ship as it sped through the endless wastes of space to its next destination, and run through moving-picture cameras to detect any astronomical occurrences recorded on them.

Since most of the cameras exposed plates only every few days, or at the most, a small number a day, it was a matter of but little time to run the film at projection speed through a moving-picture projector and look for such novae and comets as were recorded in the interval. The more detailed graphs collected by cosmic-ray detectors, and so on, were brought back to Earth for more careful and detailed scrutiny by specialized experts.

From Space Rating, by John Berryman.
Published by Astounding Science-Fiction in 1939
Additional resources -

Here's what it's like to use it:

The two sat in silence as the screen indicated the fixed positions of the stars in space and the irregular zig-zagging of the three planets of the same sun as caught by the robot eye of the telescope. Suddenly a tiny point of light appeared where none had been before, instantly noted by both men, trained observers as they were.

“Nova,” they said in quick unison.

Riggs cut the motor, and backed the film up, running it through one frame at a time. "There it is,” he said. “First photographically detectable one hundred and four days after that observatory was serviced.” He started the projector again and the two watched the image of the nova grow rapidly, then fade with astounding suddenness.

“Umph,” Hawley grunted. “That was a quicky. How long did it last ?”

Riggs was reading the date on the frame. “Four hundred and twenty terrestrial days between appearance and disappearance, photographically, but it was really quicker than that. It had sunk to the twentieth magnitude in two hundred days, more or less. Sort of looks like Hunter’s hypothesis might be correct, doesn’t it ?”

Hawley shook his head slowly as the rest of the reel ran through the projector without event. “I don’t know. I’m not up on nova theory. I stick fairly close to home, with this navigational theory. That’s my chief interest. He switched on the lights in the tiny projection room. “I suppose I’ll be teaching twelve months in the year pretty soon,” he observed, not looking at Riggs.

Compare to the Photoelectric Telescope (Photoelectric Eyes) from The Cometeers (1936) by Jack Williamson, the Liquid Mirror Telescope from Old Faithful (1934) by Raymond Z. Gallun, the electro-telescope from Blood of the Moon (1936) by Ray Cummings, the ultra-telescope ray from The Moon Weed (1931) by Harl Vincent and the hyperspace beacon from The Repairman (1959) by Harry Harrison.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Space Rating
  More Ideas and Technology by John Berryman
  Tech news articles related to Space Rating
  Tech news articles related to works by John Berryman

Robot Observatory-related news articles:
  - Robotic Observatory Opens On Antarctic Plateau

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