Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Boon for Ground-Based Optical Telescopes

Ground-based optical telescopes have special problem: atmospheric turbulence distorts images.

Historically, the solution to this problem has been to take the telescope above the turbulence. At first this meant building telescopes high up on mountains, where seeing is better. And when the technology became available, we also put telescopes in space.

But now, adaptive optics are making it easier to make clear observations from the ground. The Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona has just installed a brand new system, which is expected to yield images up to 10 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope.

That's great news, because it's very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to update hardware on a space telescope (there will be no more repair missions to Hubble, and the James Webb Telescope, which will be situated at the second Lagrangian point approximately 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, will never be serviceable in space). And of course, you can build much larger telescopes when they don't have to be taken up into space on a rocket.

I can't wait to see these new images!

At right, the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham in Arizona.

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