LBT Achieves Breakthrough with Adaptive Optics

New Technology Brings Space Telescope Image Quality Down to Earth,
Offering Astronomical Image Clarity Never Seen Before

June 14, 2010

(Tucson, Ariz.) -- The next generation of adaptive optics has arrived at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona, providing astronomers with a new level of image sharpness never before seen. Developed in a collaboration between Italy's Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) and the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory. Until relatively recently, ground-based telescopes had to live with wavefront distortion caused by the Earth's atmosphere that significantly blurred the images of distant objects (this is why stars appear to twinkle to the human eye). While there have been advancements in adaptive optics technology to correct atmospheric blurring, the LBT's innovative system truly takes this concept to a whole new level.

Supplementary Images:

Link to Video



Real-time movie showing the effect of adaptive optics on the LBT. The first portion shows the blurring and motion of the image induced by the turbulent atmosphere. The second portion shows the ability of the adaptive optics system to correct the blur and reduce the image motion.

Link to Video



Slow motion movie showing the transition from atmospheric blurring to correction by the LBT adaptive optics system. The higher resolution easily separates the two previously blended star images, and the third more distant object can be detected above the background because its light is also more concentrated.
Side view of the Adaptive Optics system during lab testing. The deformable reflecting surface of the 91-cm concave mirror is visible, along with some of the 672 circuit cards that control the magnetic forces shaping the surface (JPEG 1700x1133 173kB).
Lab testing of the LBT adaptive secondary mirror system (JPEG 1133x1700 233kB).
Arcetri Observatory astronomers examine the wavefront sensing unit that records the starlight image 1000 times per second to compute and correct the distortion from the turbulent atmosphere above the telescope. (JPEG 1700x1133 229kB).