Research in Adaptive Optics

Adaptive optics (AO) compensate for the variability of images due to irregularities in the medium through which the light passes. In astronomy, adaptive optics are used to correct for the distortion that is inevitably introduced when objects are viewed through the Earth's turbulent atmosphere, i.e. removing the twinkling of starlight. Without adaptive optics, images taken at ground-based telescopes are typically smeared by half an arcsecond or more, reducing both the resolution of the images and the sensitivity of the telescope since the light is spread over a larger area. One way to improve images is to move above the atmosphere, as the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has done. But bigger telescopes can be built on Earth far less expensively than HST. Adaptive optics promises resolution four or five times better than HST on existing telescopes like Keck, and potentially far better on the next generation of even larger telescopes.

CFAOThe Center for Adaptive Optics (CFAO) is a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center headquartered on the UCSC campus in a new building adjacent to the astronomy department. With nearly a dozen member universities and over a dozen affiliated labs, institutes, and industrial associates, the CfAO's themes are AO for extremely large telescopes, extreme AO for ultra-high contrast observations to detect extra-solar planets, instrumentation for AO in clinical and research applications in vision science, and education at all levels from the public to the research community. UCSC faculty associated with CfAO include the Director, Claire Max, as well as Sandy Faber, Raja GuhaThakurta, David Koo, and Jerry Nelson. Many graduate students and postdocs are also center members.

A complementary Laboratory for Adaptive Optics was recently established at UCSC through a generous gift of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation -- the first comprehensive university laboratory dedicated to adaptive optics in the United States. The Laboratory, directed by Dr. Donald Gavel, serves as a test facility for ideas developed at CfAO, allowing researchers to develop and test prototypes of AO equipment in laboratory settings. The Lab is located on the first floor of Thimann Labs, near the CfAO building.

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