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Multiple guide stars offer whole-sky adaptive optics

17 Jun 2002

Distorting images from a system of multiple guide stars could soon improve the resolution of an eight metre telescope by a factor of up to 100 for the whole sky, according to physicists from Italy and Spain.

Adaptive optics, which employ computer-controlled mirrors to compensate for distortions in astronomical observations caused by turbulence in the Earth's atmosphere, are currently only possible for parts of the sky that are close to very bright 'guide stars'.

The researchers demonstrated that the principles of adaptive optics can be extended to the whole sky by considering a system of multiple guide stars and modelling the tomography of atmospheric turbulence in between.

The researchers studied four stars in the constellation Aquilla, which are arranged as a triangle of stars and a central star. They collected 130 images of the constellation with the Italian 3.6 metre Galileo telescope and used the images of the three outer stars, distorted in a controlled way, to model the mirror distortions required for the central star. They were then able to compare the mathematical predictions with observations from the real star.

This research was reported by researchers from the Astronomical Observatory of Padova and the University of Padova in Italy and Centro Galileo Galilei, Spain, in the 6 January 2000 issue of Nature.

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