SUNSPOT, NM (June 18, 2003) -- Impressive, sharp images of the Sun can be produced with an advanced adaptive optical (AO) system that will give new life to existing telescopes and opens the way for a generation of large-aperture solar telescopes. This AO system removes blurring introduced by Earth's turbulent atmosphere and thus provides a clear vision of the smallest structure on the Sun.
The new AO76 system -- Adaptive Optics, 76 subapertures -- is the largest system designed for solar observations. As demonstrated recently by a team at the National Solar Observatory at Sunspot, NM, AO76 produces sharper images under worse seeing conditions for atmospheric distortion than the AO24 system employed since 1998.
"First light" with the new AO76 system was in December 2002, followed by tests in April 2003 with a new camera that significantly enhanced the system.
"If the first results in late 2002 with the prototype were impressive," said Dr. Thomas Rimmele, the project scientist at the NSO, "I would call the performance that we are getting now truly amazing. I'm quite thrilled with the image quality delivered by this new system. I believe its fair to say that the images we are getting are the best ever produced by the Dunn Solar Telescope." The Dunn is one of the nation's premier solar observing facilities.
The new high-order AO system serves two purposes. It will allow existing solar telescopes, like the 76-cm (30-inch) Dunn, to produce higher resolution images and greatly improve their scientific output under a wider range of seeing conditions. It also demonstrates the ability to expand the AO system to enable a new generation of large-aperture instruments, including the proposed 4-meter Advanced Technology Solar Telescope.
The NSO is part of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) and is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The high-order adaptive optics (AO) project is a joint effort of the National Solar Observatory and the Big Bear Solar Observatory, New Jersey Institute of Technology. NSF sponsors this project within its Major Research Instrumentation program with substantial matching funds from the participating partner organizations, including the NSO, NJIT, the Kiepenheuer Institute in Germany and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.
Advance copies of the full story, plus high-resolution images and MPEGs of solar observations using the new AO system, are on-line at the National Solar Observatory web site: http://www.nso.edu/press/AO/ao.html.
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