NSF Awards $1.72 Million to Improve Keck I Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics

This image shows the Keck I laser, which is part of the telescope’s Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics system. The laser is launched from the center of the telescope behind the secondary mirror. Credit: Andrew Cooper, WMKO.

The W. M. Keck Observatory has received a $1.72 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to design the first near-infrared tip-tilt sensor used to correct for the turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere.

The improvements will increase the sensitivity and resolution of the Keck I telescope, which already allows astronomers to resolve in the near-infrared as much detail or more as the Hubble Space Telescope resolves in visible light.

The grant from NSF’s Advanced Technologies and Instrumentation (ATI) program provides the Observatory with the funding to design, construct and implement a near-infrared tip-tilt sensor with the Keck I Laser Guide Star (LGS) Adaptive Optics (AO) system and OSIRIS, a near-infrared integral field spectrograph and imager.

An adaptive optics system removes the blurring effect of the Earth’s atmosphere, taking the twinkle out of stars.

The new instrumentation will be developed in collaboration with Caltech Optical Observatories, which will be building the camera to be used in the sensor.

“Every innovative, significant adaptive optics improvement has triggered new discoveries, from the structure of the rings of Uranus, to direct imaging of extrasolar planets, to the size and nature of the environment around the Galaxy’s central black hole, to the morphology of high-redshift galaxies,” said Keck Observatory Director Taft Armandroff. “The Observatory’s new near-infrared sensor is a major advancement in adaptive optics and will contribute significantly to future discoveries.”

Read the full story.