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Subaru Telescope Adds Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics System

Mauna Kea, Hawaii – November 20, 2006:   The Subaru telescope will be improving its eyesight by a factor of ten with the completion of a new adaptive optics and laser guide star system. For the past five years, Subaruís adaptive optics development team had been working on developing an advanced adaptive optics system to better remove the twinkle from starlight passing through Earthís atmosphere.
 
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  At the same time, the team was developing a laser guide star system that can create an artificial star anywhere in the sky, opening up a larger portion of the sky to observations with adaptive optics. In October 2006, the team succeeded in testing both new systems on the telescope.

On October 9, 2006, the team tested the new adaptive optics system and obtained an image of the Orion Nebula with ten times better resolution than without adaptive optics. A comparison of the new image with the first light image from when the Subaru telescope began observing in 1999 shows the dramatic increase in contrast and detail seen in the higher resolution image.

Adaptive optics and laser guide star technology are important to astronomers because a ground-based telescope's ability to resolve spatial detail is limited by turbulence in Earth's atmosphere. If the Subaru telescope were in space (without atmospheric interference) it could achieve an angular resolution of 0.06 arcseconds for light with a wavelength of 2 microns.
 
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Subaru's adaptive optics development team has been working on replacing its older 36-element adaptive optics system with an improved 188-element system for the past five years. At the same time, the team also developed and installed a new laser guide star system that allows astronomers to create an artificial star anywhere in the sky. They use light from the artificial star to measure the twinkle brought on by the atmosphere. That information is then used by the adaptive optics system to deform a special mirror that removes the twinkle and clarifies the view.

On October 12, 2006, the team projected a laser beam into the sky to produce an artificial star in the sodium layer of Earthís atmosphere, at an altitude of about 90 km. Subaru's laser guide star system is the fourth system to be completed in the world for 8-10m telescopes, and its use of unique solid-state laser and optical fiber technology, both developed in Japan, represents a new and original contribution to the field. With the laser guide star system, developed by Subaruís adaptive optics team and researchers from Japanís Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), the entire sky observable from Mauna Kea will be accessible to Subaruís adaptive optics system. Together, the new adaptive optics system and the laser guide star allow Subaru to reach its theoretical performance limit.

These two new systems on the Subaru telescope will enable astronomers to study objects that were previously unobservable, such as the detailed structure of faint distant galaxies and stellar populations of nearby galaxies. They will also be able to do more detailed imaging and spectroscopy of quasars and gamma-ray bursters.
 
Subaru LGS The Subaru telescope during tests of the new laser guide star system, with the Milky Way in the background.
Image:   © Subaru Telescope, NAOJ 


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Trapezium An image of the trapezium region in the Orion Nebula with and without adaptive optics. The image on the right has a resolution of 0.6 arcseconds and was obtained with Subaru's CISCO camera in 1999 without the use of adaptive optics. The image on the left has a resolution of 0.06 arcseconds and was obtained in October 2006 using Subaru's IRCS camera and the new adaptive optics system.
Image:   © Subaru Telescope, NAOJ 
This research was supported by a grant from MEXT, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Technical Notes:  

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•   The new adaptive optics system uses a 188-element bimorph piezoelectric mirror, 130mm in diameter, to control the wavefront.  
•   The wavefront is measured with a curvature wavefront sensor, made up of a 188-element custom lenslet array connected to 188 avalanche photodiodes via optical fibres.  
•   The laser guide star is tuned to the 589nm sodium D2 line. It is a sum-frequency laser, which uses a non-linear crystal to mix a 1319nm Nd:YAG laser and a 1064nm Nd:YAG laser to produce the required wavelength. The laser's output power is 4.7 W. The laser was developed by RIKEN's Solid State Optical Device Research Unit and MegaOpto Co. Ltd.  
•   The laser is launched by a 50cm aperture telescope mounted above the Subaru telescope's secondary mirror. A photonic crystal optical fibre transfers the laser beam to the launch telescope.
 


Previous News:  
Solid State Laser for Subaru Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics, July 2005.

 
Full Press Release
 

© 2006
 
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