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Published March 2014 | Published
Journal Article Open

Robo-AO: Initial results from the first autonomous laser guide star adaptive optics instrument


Large surveys, such as the Kepler mission and Palomar Transient Factory, are discovering upwards of thousands of objects which require further characterization at angular resolutions significantly finer than normally allowed by atmospheric seeing. The demands on precious space-based observatories (i.e. Hubble Space Telescope) and large telescopes with adaptive optics (AO) systems (i.e. Keck, VLT, Gemini) leave them generally unavailable for high angular resolution surveys of more than a few hundred targets at a time. To address the gap between scientific objects and available telescopes, we have developed Robo-AO, the first robotic laser AO system, as an economical and efficient imaging instrument for the more readily available 1-3 m class telescopes. The Robo-AO system system demonstrates angular resolutions approaching the visible diffraction limit of the Palomar 60-inch telescope. Observations of over 200 stellar objects per night have routinely been performed, with target-to-target observation overheads of less than 1.5 minutes. Scientific programs requiring high-resolution follow-up characterization of several thousands of targets can thus be executed in mere weeks, and Robo-AO has already completed the three largest AO surveys to date.

Additional Information

© 2014 Astronomical Institute. Received: November 20, 2013; Accepted: January 13, 2014. The Robo-AO project is supported by collaborating partner institutions, the California Institute of Technology and the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, by the National Science Foundation under Grant Numbers AST-0906060 and AST-0960343, by a grant from the Mt. Cuba Foundation, by the Office of Naval Research under grant N00014-11-1-0903, and by a gift from Samuel Oschin. We are grateful for the continued support of the Palomar Observatory staff for their ongoing support of Robo-AO on the 60-inch telescope, particularly S. Kunsman, M. Doyle, J. Henning, R. Walters, G. Van Idsinga, B. Baker, K. Dunscombe and D. Roderick.

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