Christoph Baranec: Robo-AO

When Robo-AO-2, a robotic laser adaptive optics system, is installed on the UH 2.2-m Telescope on Mauna Kea next year, it will dramatically improve image quality by a factor of 10.

Built by a team at the IfA led by Christoph Baranec, the system will further the study of binary stars, transiting exoplanet sytems, supernovae, and the distribution of dark matter in the local universe.

The original Robo-AO system at Kitt Peak has already played a prominent role in a diverse study of stars identified by NASA’s Kepler space telescope as likely to host planets.

Both Robo-AOs use ultraviolet lasers to create artificial guide stars in the sky exactly 10 kilometers from the telescope. By measuring how the atmosphere affects these artificial stars, deformable mirrors in the systems can be commanded by built-in computers to remove its blurring effects. Because starlight and light from the laser pass through the same atmosphere, and both are reflected off the deformable mirror, these corrections lead to very sharp images.

As the name implies, Robo-AO and Robo-AO-2 are fully robotic, which makes them the most time efficient adaptive optics system in use today.

While Robo-AO is at the frontier of adaptive optics, Baranec and his team hope the technology can make smaller (and older) telescopes more useful and prolong their working lives.

“Once deployed, the new Robo-AO-2 will be at the forefront of space-like image quality from the ground. We’ll also be augmenting the infrared cameras with new technology developed right here in Hawaii. I’m also excited that Hawai’i students will be deeply involved in engineering Robo-AO-2, deploying new technologies, and undertaking several of the upcoming science surveys.”  —  Christoph Baranec