Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .




SPACE SCOPES
Private Foundations Fund New Astronomy Tool
by Staff Writers
Kamuela HI (SPX) Jul 12, 2012


Like the Keck I Telescope's laser, shown here, the Keck II TOPTICA laser will launch from behind the telescope's secondary mirror. The laser will be more powerful as well as non-pulsing - which allows it to create a brighter guide star. The guide star is used to measure starlight-bending turbulence in Earth's atmosphere, which is then canceled out with a deformable mirror in the adaptive optics system. Credit: Andrew Cooper / W. M. Keck Observatory.

The W. M. Keck Observatory has been awarded two major grants to help build a $4 million laser system as the next leap forward in a technology which already enables ground-based telescopes to exceed the observational power of telescopes in space. The new laser, when installed on the current adaptive optics system on the Keck II telescope, will improve the performance of the system and advance future technology initiatives.

In early July the Observatory received a $1.5 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation, adding to a $2 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awarded eight months prior for the multi-year project. Keck Observatory is charged to raise the remaining funds needed from its private supporters over the next two years.

"Ever since Galileo, astronomers have been building bigger telescopes to collect more light to be able to observe more distant objects," said Peter Wizinowich, who leads the adaptive optics developments at Keck Observatory.

"In theory, the larger the telescope the more detail you can see. However, because of the blurring caused by Earth's atmosphere, a 10-inch or a 10-meter telescope see about the same amount of detail."

There are two solutions to this problem, Wizinowich said: put a telescope in space or use adaptive optics technology to cancel out the distortions of the atmosphere. W. M. Keck Observatory helped pioneer the astronomical use of adaptive optics in the 1990's, and now delivers images three to four times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope.

Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics, or LGS AO, uses a laser beam generated from within the Observatory to excite a layer of sodium atoms 60 miles (90 km) up, above most of Earth's atmosphere. The sodium atoms are remnants of micro-meteors which have burned away as they hit the atmosphere. Once the specially-tuned laser hits these atoms, they light up and create an artificial star or beacon that can be used to precisely measure atmospheric turbulence and cancel out the distortions in real time.

The new laser will improve on the current laser system at Keck in several ways. Most importantly, it will be brighter. But it will also differ by being a non-pulsed laser. Researchers have discovered that non-pulsed lasers do a better job kicking sodium atoms into action and result in a more capable and efficient system.

The advanced Keck II laser will be blazing a trail for the adaptive optics system for use on the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, currently in development.

"Keck can make the use of this laser routine, so that TMT can use it efficiently at first light," said TMT Project Manager Gary Sanders. For this reason, the TMT has committed a modest amount of engineering and technical support for the Keck laser project.

The new Keck II Laser is also one of the first steps in a $50-million Next Generation Adaptive Optics system in design at Keck Observatory that will go far beyond what is currently possible. Just what will be discovered is anyone's guess. Astronomers often find the unexpected when they gain new views into the cosmos.

Among the scientific breakthroughs which have come from the original Keck II LGS AO system is the definitive evidence of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

"Thanks to the resolving power of the Keck Telescopes, you can get the clearest view of the center of our galaxy and see the stars that are residing at its heart," said Andrea Ghez, an astronomy professor at UCLA who was recently awarded the Crafoord Prize for her research involving Keck.

Ghez and her team have been observing the galactic center of the Milky Way for the last 17 years to see how these stars move. Their data helped prove the existence of the black hole, and their research is far from over.

"New mysteries are being revealed to help us understand how our galaxy formed, how black holes form, how they interact with their surroundings and influence the evolution of galaxies, the fundamental building blocks of our Universe. We are seeing things that no one expected," said Ghez.

The new laser will improve their black hole research by at least a factor of two, she said.

"The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is tasked to fund fundamental scientific research and Keck Observatory is an undisputed leader in revolutionizing astronomy with adaptive optics technology," said Foundation Science Program Director Cynthia Atherton. "This project resonates with what we say on our external website: we like to take smart risks because major leaps forward in science won't happen otherwise."

The confidence that the Keck Foundation and the Moore Foundation have shown in Keck Observatory by partnering with us on the new laser is very significant, said Observatory Director Taft Armandroff.

"These two Foundations are the most sophisticated private funders of science today," Armandroff said.

.


Related Links
Keck Observatory
Space Telescope News and Technology at Skynightly.com






Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle




Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News





SPACE SCOPES
Two Cameras Offer View of JWST in Clean Room
Pasadena CA (JPL) Jul 10, 2012
Members of the public can track the progress of the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope inside a NASA clean room, where the recently delivered Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) will be integrated into the science instrument payload. Two cameras show the giant clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Online screen shots from the two clean-room cameras, affectionally d ... read more


SPACE SCOPES
ESA to catch laser beam from Moon mission

Researchers Estimate Ice Content of Crater at Moon's South Pole

Researchers find evidence of ice content at the moon's south pole

Nanoparticles found in moon glass bubbles explain weird lunar soil behaviour

SPACE SCOPES
NASA Mars images 'next best thing to being there'

Life's molecules could lie within reach of Mars Curiosity rover

Final Six-Member Crew Selected for Mars Food Mission

Opportunity Celebratres 3,000 Martian Days of Operation on the Surface of Mars!

SPACE SCOPES
Nose Landing Gear Tested for Dream Chaser Spacecraft

Virgin Galactic Reveals Privately Funded Satellite Launcher and Confirms SpaceShipTwo Poised for Powered Flight

Branson to take kids on first space tourist trip

Space for dessert?

SPACE SCOPES
Shenzhou mission sparks 'science fever'

China Beats Russia on Space Launches

China open to cooperation

China set to launch bigger space program

SPACE SCOPES
ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers returns to Earth

First Annual ISS Research and Development Conference in Review

Three astronauts land on Earth from ISS in Russian capsule

ISS crew rests before return to Earth

SPACE SCOPES
SpaceX Dragon Utilizes Cooper Interconnect Non-Explosive Actuators

ILS Proton Launches SES-5 For SES

Eutelsat and Arianespace pursue their longstanding collaboration with the signature of a new launch contract

Ariane 5 ECA orbits EchoStar XVII and MSG-3

SPACE SCOPES
The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Dust

Study in Nature sheds new light on planet formation

New Instrument Sifts Through Starlight to Reveal New Worlds

Planet-Forming Disk Turns Off Lights, Locks Doors

SPACE SCOPES
The Day Information Went Global

Asian firms to pay $571 mn more in US LCD case

ESA's Clean Space targets orbital debris and greener environment

Metamolecules that switch handedness at light-speed




The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement