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Adaptive optics detail the turmoil of a stellar nursery

NSF Award:

Management and Operations of the Gemini Observatory  (Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc.)

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Turbulence in the Earth's atmosphere can blur ground-based astronomical observations. Heat rising off of a hot asphalt highway produces the same optical distortion. To overcome the blurring, astronomers use adaptive optics. Large, ground-based telescopes outfitted with such systems can produce images with the resolution of space telescopes and because of their larger sizes, the ground-based telescopes can reach far fainter objects at greater distances.

Using the Gemini South Telescope in Chile, astronomers applied an advanced adaptive optics technique to a complex star-forming region in the constellation Orion. The approach permitted the telescope to reveal "pillars" of ambient gas shocked into emission by the impact of high-speed gas "bullets" that were accelerated by the intense radiation from young, luminous stars.

To view the pillars, the astronomers projected a five-beam laser "constellation" from the telescope into space. This approach provided 3-D correction for the turbulent effects of the Earth's atmosphere. The resulting ground-based astronomical images offered unprecedented clarity and sky coverage.

With the multiple-spot laser technique, astronomers sampled atmospheric effects across the sky as well as along the light path. This approach greatly improved both the quality of the correction as well as the region over which images were sharpened. In concert with the other detectors on the Gemini telescope, the adaptive optics system enhances the science performed with one of the world's largest telescopes. The 8-meter (26.5-foot) diameter telescope and its twin, Gemini North on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, are operated through a partnership among the U.S., Canada, Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

 

Image

  • an adaptive optics system captured these supersonic gas bullets in space
An adaptive optics system captured these supersonic gas "bullets" (blue).
Gemini Observatory/AURA

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