The Rise of Telescopes with Adaptive Optics and Giant Lasers

Stars twinkle because turbulence in the Earth's atmosphere —heat haze— gets between our eyes and the stars.

The same thing happens when we look through telescopes —the atmosphere blurs the heavens, making them as much as 100 times fuzzier than they should be.

Astronomers don't like that, and have come up with a bunch of different ways of improving the situation, some of which are now in use by amateur and professional astronomers alike.

These techniques offer us some of our best chances to directly see extrasolar planets, and are in very active development.

I will particularly focus on the Robo-AO system we are building in California, which involves attaching a giant laser to a large robot and using it to make artificial stars.

Nicholas Law is a Dunlap Postdoctoral Fellow at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto.

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