Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Adaptive optics at Europe's flagship telescope looks back on a decade of successful observations

25.11.2011
Ten years ago today, NACO became operational: the first adaptive optics system of ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT). Adaptive Optics allows astronomers to remove the stars' twinkling – disturbances due to the Earth's atmosphere –, allowing for extremely sharp images of celestial objects.

NACO looks back on a decade of scientific results, including the first direct image of an exoplanet and insight into the surroundings of our home galaxy's central black hole.


This near-infrared image of the active galaxy NGC 1097, obtained with NACO in 2005, discloses in unprecedented detail a complex network of filaments linking the outer regions with the galaxy's center. These observations provide astronomers with new insights on how super-massive black holes lurking inside galaxies get fed. Credit: ESO, A. Prieto (MPIA, IAC)

For non-astronomers, the twinkling of the stars can be quite romantic. For astronomers, it is the outward sign of a fundamental problem: As light passes through turbulent areas of the Earth's atmosphere, it is deflected in uneven and ever-changing ways. What should be a sharp image of, say, a star in a telescope instead becomes a diffuse disk as the star's image dances to and fro, or splits into several partial images.

That is why, before adaptive optics, astronomers were forced to use space telescopes or else to wait for exceptionally good atmospheric conditions – which happen only a few times, if at all, in any given year – to obtain sharp images of celestial objects.

At least for images in the near-infrared, at slightly longer wavelengths that those of visible light, astronomers can also address the problem directly, using Adaptive Optics (AO): The ever-changing image is analyzed by a fast computer which, in real time, controls a deformable mirror. As the image dances and splits, the mirror twists warps and to compensate, restoring sharpness.

The NACO instrument was the first Adaptive Optics system at the VLT, the flagship facility for European ground-based astronomy. Installed on one of the VLT's four 8,2 metre telescopes in 2001, it commenced scientific operations ("first light" in astronomical parlance) on November 25, 2001.

NACO was not the first AO instrument on an 8-10 metre class telescope, but it is arguably one of the most successful ones. With its help, the VLT immediately achieved a resolution surpassing that of the Hubble Space Telescope – at least at infrared wavelengths, where NACO operates. Scientific results from NACO run the gamut from solar system research to the most distant galaxies:

The instrument revealed the infrared glow of individual volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io, and obtained some of the first detailed surface and weather maps of Saturn's moon Titan, the largest moon in the Solar System. It also excelled at detecting and examining planets outside the solar system (exoplanets): A faint speck of light called 2M1207b was the first planet-sized object ever imaged in orbit around an object other than the Sun (in this case, a so-called brown dwarf – an object that is not quite a star, but larger than a planet).

In another first, NACO performed the first spectral analysis of a directly imaged exoplanet in orbit around a nearby star. This allowed astronomers to probe the atmosphere of the exoplanet HR 8799c for the presence of methane and carbon monoxide.

NACO's uniquely sharp infrared view also pierced the dust veil hiding the centre of the Milky Way. By tracing the orbit of a star around the Galactic center, NACO provided the strongest evidence yet for the presence of a central black hole in the centre of our home galaxy, with the mass of several million Suns.

When it came to young star clusters like the Arches cluster or RCW 38, NACO proved its worth by imaging separately hundreds of densely packed stars in the clusters' central regions. This provided astronomers with data to study the early phases of stellar evolution over the entire range of stellar masses, from stars with less than tenths of the mass of our Sun to stars with more than 100 solar masses.

NACO is a first generation VLT instrument, developed in a joint effort between French and German research institutes and ESO. Thanks to continuous upgrades over the past decade, it remains one of the preeminent Adaptive Optics instruments worldwide, enabling European astronomers to stay at the forefront of astronomical research. Several additional Adaptive Optics instruments have entered service at the VLT over the past decade. A number of new instruments are currently under development, and Adaptive Optics will be an integral part of the next generation of telescopes, including the 40 metre class European Extremely Large Telescope.

Contact information

Rainer Lenzen (principal investigator, CONICA)
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg
Phone: (+49|0) 6221 – 528 228
Email: lenzen@mpia.de
Wolfgang Brandner
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg
Phone: (+49|0) 6221 – 528 289
Email: brandner@mpia.de
Markus Pössel (public relations)
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg
Phone: (+49|0) 6221 – 528 261
Email: pr@mpia.de
Background information
NACO is a first generation VLT instrument, developed in a joint effort between French and German research institutes and ESO. NACO is short for NAOS-CONICA, which acronyms in turn stand for the instrument's two sub-systems:

The Nasmyth Adaptive Optics System (NAOS) has been developed, with the support of Institut National des Sciences de lUnivers/Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (INSU/CNRS) by a French Consortium in collaboration with ESO. The French consortium consists of Office National d'Etudes et de Recherches Aèrospatiales (ONERA), Institut de Planetologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble (IPAG, formerly called Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Grenoble) and Observatoire de Paris: Laboratoire d'études spatiales et d'instrumentation en astrophysique (LESIA, formerly called DESPA) and DASGAL (which does not exist anymore). The Project Manager is Gérard Rousset (ONERA), the Instrument Scientist responsible is François Lacombe (Observatoire de Paris) and the Project Scientist is Anne-Marie Lagrange (Institut de Planetologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble, OSUG, Université Joseph Fourier/CNRS).

The CONICA Near-Infrared CAmera has been developed by a German Consortium, with an extensive ESO collaboration. The Consortium consists of Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie (MPIA) (Heidelberg) and the Max-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik (MPE) (Garching). The Principal Investigator (PI) is Rainer Lenzen (MPIA), with Reiner Hofmann (MPE) as Co-Investigator.

Dr. Markus Pössel | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:
http://www.mpia.de
http://www.mpia.de/Public/menu_q2e.php?Aktuelles/PR/2011/PR111125/PR_111125_en.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Two dimensional circuit with magnetic quasi-particles
22.01.2018 | Technische Universität Kaiserslautern

nachricht Meteoritic stardust unlocks timing of supernova dust formation
19.01.2018 | Carnegie Institution for Science

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Thanks for the memory: NIST takes a deep look at memristors

22.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

Radioactivity from oil and gas wastewater persists in Pennsylvania stream sediments

22.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

Saarland University bioinformaticians compute gene sequences inherited from each parent

22.01.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks Wissenschaft & Forschung
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>