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

The Very Large Telescope Team Mark Oversee Ten Years Of Adaptive Optics Technology
by Staff Writers
Heidelberg, Germany (SPX) Nov 26, 2011

Given that stars are so much brighter than planets, it is exceedingly difficult to directly image a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. This NACO image from 2004 was a key step towards that goal. It shows not a Sun-like star, but the "brown dwarf" 2M1207 (an object with slightly too little mass to become a star) and its companion, which was later confirmed to be the first image of a planetary mass object in orbit around an astronomical object other than the Sun. A gallery of Adaptive Optic Imagery

For non-astronomers, the twinkling of the stars can be quite romantic. For astronomers, it is the outward sign of a fundamental problem: As light passes through turbulent areas of the Earth's atmosphere, it is deflected in uneven and ever-changing ways.

What should be a sharp image of, say, a star in a telescope instead becomes a diffuse disk as the star's image dances to and fro or splits into several partial images.

That is why, before adaptive optics, astronomers were forced to use space telescopes or else to wait for exceptionally good atmospheric conditions - which happen only a few times, if at all, in any given year - to obtain sharp images of celestial objects.

At least for images in the near-infrared, at slightly longer wavelengths that those of visible light, astronomers can also address the problem directly, using adaptive optics (AO): The ever-changing image is analyzed by a fast computer which, in real time, controls a deformable mirror. As the image dances and splits, the mirror twists and warps to compensate, restoring sharpness.

The NACO instrument was the first adaptive optics system at the VLT, the flagship facility for European ground-based astronomy. Installed on one of the VLT's four 8.2-meter telescopes in 2001, it commenced scientific operations ("first light" in astronomical parlance) on November 25, 2001.

NACO was not the first AO instrument on an 8-10 meter class telescope, but it is arguably one of the most successful ones. With its help, the VLT immediately achieved a resolution surpassing that of the Hubble Space Telescope - at least at infrared wavelengths, where NACO operates. Scientific results from NACO run the gamut from solar system research to the most distant galaxies:

* The instrument revealed the infrared glow of individual volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io, and obtained some of the first detailed surface and weather maps of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. It also excelled at detecting and examining planets outside the solar system (exoplanets): A faint speck of light called 2M1207b was the first planet-sized object ever imaged in orbit around an object other than the Sun (in this case, a so-called brown dwarf - an object that is not quite a star, but larger than a planet).

* In another first, NACO performed the first spectral analysis of a directly imaged exoplanet in orbit around a nearby star. This allowed astronomers to probe the atmosphere of the exoplanet HR 8799c for the presence of methane and carbon monoxide.

* NACO's uniquely sharp infrared view also pierced the dust veil hiding the center of the Milky Way. By tracing the orbit of a star around the galactic center, NACO provided the strongest evidence yet for the presence of a central black hole in the center of our home galaxy, with the mass of several million Suns.

* When it came to young star clusters like the Arches cluster or RCW 38, NACO proved its worth by imaging separately hundreds of densely packed stars in the clusters' central regions. This provided astronomers with data to study the early phases of stellar evolution over the entire range of stellar masses, from stars with less than tenths of the mass of our Sun to stars with more than 100 solar masses.

NACO - Nasmyth Adaptive Optics System (NAOS) Near-Infrared Imager and Spectrograph (CONICA) - is a first generation VLT instrument, developed in a joint effort between French and German research institutes and ESO.

Thanks to continuous upgrades over the past decade, it remains one of the preeminent adaptive optics instruments worldwide, enabling European astronomers to stay at the forefront of astronomical research.

Several additional adaptive optics instruments have entered service at the VLT over the past decade. A number of new instruments are currently under development, and adaptive optics will be an integral part of the next generation of telescopes, including the 40 meter class European Extremely Large Telescope.


Related Links
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy
Space Telescope News and Technology at

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

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

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

Partners Agree on Funding for Design of Square Kilometre Array
Canberra, Australia (SPX) Nov 24, 2011
Seven national governmental and research organizations have announced the formation of the SKA Organization, an independent, not-for-profit company established to formalize relationships with international partners and centralize the leadership of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project. The signatories from Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and ... read more

Schafer Corp Signs Licensing Agreement with MoonDust Technologies

Russia wants to focus on Moon if Mars mission fails

Flying over the three-dimensional Moon

LRO Camera Team Releases High Resolution Global Topographic Map of Moon

Opportunity Continutes To Scout For Site To Winter In

ESA station keeps contact with Russian Mars mission Phobos-Grunt

Data beamed from Russia Mars probe deciphered

No further contact with stranded Mars probe: ESA

Thanksgiving in space may one day come with all the trimmings

More U.S. science degrees by foreign-born

ULA Completes Milestone Toward Certifying Atlas V For Human Spaceflight

Space Law Symposium to Examine National Space Laws

15 patents granted for Chinese space docking technology

China plans major effort in pursuing manned space technology

Tiangong-1 orbiter enters long-term operation management

China launches two satellites: state media

Satellite junk no threat to space station crew

Space Station Trio Lands Safely in Kazakhstan

Russian Soyuz brings astronauts safely back to Earth

New Trio Welcomed Aboard Station, Gets to Work

Russia launches Chinese satellite

AsiaSat 7 Spacecraft Separation Successfully Completed

Pleiades 1 is readied for launch

SpaceX Searches For New Commercial Launch Site

Habitable Does not Mean 'Earth-Like'

Exo planet count tops 700

Giant planet ejected from the solar system

Three New Planets and a Mystery Object Discovered Outside Our Solar System

Carbon nanotube forest camouflages 3d objects

The impending revolution of low-power quantum computers

RACR Competes in South Korean F-16 Radar Procurement

Butterfly wings inspire design of water-repellent surface

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