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ADAPTIVE OPTICS: PROVIDING ASTRONOMERS WITH A CLEAR VIEW OF THE STARS

ADAPTIVE OPTICS: PROVIDING ASTRONOMERS WITH A CLEAR VIEW OF THE STARS
 WALTHAM, Mass., April 7 /PRNewswire/ -- Recent advances in mirror technology have enabled astronomers to build larger and larger telescopes. By the end of the century, telescopes as large as 10 meters in diameter will come on line. The larger the telescope, the more light it can collect and the fainter the objects it can image. But, regardless of how large the telescope, astronomers will still have to contend with the problem of images that look blurry. Thermo Electron Technologies Corporation (TTC) is addressing this problem with its adaptive optics technology. Our system provides a simple, inexpensive way to implement adaptive optics on ground-based telescopes.
 Adaptive optics takes the "twinkle" out of stars. Stars twinkle because of naturally occurring atmospheric turbulence, which distorts images and makes them look blurry to astronomers. TTC's adaptive optics system can correct this distortion, dramatically improving the clarity of images captured by ground-based telescopes.
 During the 1980s, the Department of Defense sponsored a vigorous research effort to correct for the blurring effects in telescopes caused by atmospheric turbulence. TTC began developing its adaptive optics technology in 1982 under a classified Department of Defense research and development program. By the mid '80s, TTC had successfully performed the first laboratory demonstration of the technique that is now popularly known as Roptical compensation using a laser-produced artificial guide star.
 During the next several years, the technology was refined and further developed until last year when it was declassified by the government. Among the astronomers who are already benefiting from the release of this information are those at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory who have been using our equipment on their Multiple Mirror Telescope for about a year with great success.
 TTC is recognized as the only government contractor to successfully develop and test its adaptive optics hardware in the atmosphere. TTC's adaptive optics system consists of three major pieces of hardware: a segmented deformable mirror, consisting of an array of many small mirrors, or segments; a wavefront sensor (so named because light travels through the air in wavefronts); and a wavefront computer. In very simplified terms, the underlying principle is that by measuring the atmospheric distortion and imprinting it on the mirror, it can be cancelled out. Each mirror segment moves independently based on information provided by the wavefront computer.
 The laser-based artificial guide star serves as a beacon between the telescope and the celestial object being observed and is used to gauge the amount of atmospheric turbulence in that portion of the sky. Because a real reference star is not always available, an artificial guide star beacon is created in the lower atmosphere by directing a laser beam from the ground. The wavefront sensor uses the light from the beacon to continuously measure the effects of the turbulence. This data is then sent to the wavefront computer, which very quickly uses the data to perform a series of calculations and then automatically moves the appropriate mirror segments to correct for the turbulence. This process takes place 1,000 times a second.
 TTC's system could be scaled up to correct distortion on telescopes larger than any currently planned for construction in the 1990s. Telescopes with adaptive optics technology can potentially allow astronomers to view young stars, star clusters, and planets that would require impossibly large telescopes without atmospheric compensation.
 -0- 4/7/92
 /CONTACT: John N. Hatsopoulos of Thermo Electron, 617-622-1111/ CO: Thermo Electron Technologies Corporation ST: Massachusetts IN: SU:


EG -- NE004 -- 5747 04/07/92 10:17 EDT
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Date:Apr 7, 1992
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