The VLT’s Next-generation Laser Launch Telescope

This telescope is an important new component of the Four Laser Guide Star Facility, which will sharpen the already excellent vision of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). Four powerful 20-watt lasers, fired to an altitude of 90 kilometres up in the atmosphere, will help the VLT correct the image distortion caused by turbulence in the air. The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) is developing the launch telescopes through which the laser beams will be fired. The first of these laser launch telescopes — known as the Optical Tube Assembly — is seen here in the cleanroom at TNO’s Van Leeuwenhoek Laboratory in Delft, the Netherlands, having recently held its Acceptance Review. A special anti-reflective coating gives the lens on the telescope a distinctive blue hue. The photograph was taken by Fred Kamphues, who appears on the left. He is project manager for the Optical Tube Assembly, and is also a new ESO Photo Ambassador. On the right is system engineer Rens Henselmans.

The Four Laser Guide Star Facility is part of the next generation Adaptive Optics Facility, to be installed on the VLT’s 4th Unit Telescope, Yepun, in 2013. Adaptive optics systems rapidly adjust a deformable mirror to counteract the distorting effect of atmospheric turbulence — the same effect that makes stars twinkle — in real time. To do this, they use a guide star as a reference, since the star should appear as a sharp point when the effect of the atmosphere is removed. This lets the telescope make images almost as sharp as if it were in space.

ESO has led the way in adaptive optics systems, having used them for over 20 years on its telescopes. The first such system on the VLT was installed just over ten years ago (see eso0137). In early 2006, the technology was improved with the first use of a laser guide star at the VLT. The unit projects a high-power laser beam into the sky, which excites a layer of sodium atoms at an altitude of 90 kilometres in the atmosphere and makes them glow. This glowing spot acts as an artificial guide star which can be positioned at will in the sky, so astronomers are not restricted to observations close to a sufficiently bright natural guide star (eso0607).

The next generation Four Laser Guide Star Facility will use four such artificial stars, to improve the removal of atmospheric turbulence over a wider field of view. The technology will also serve as a testbed ahead of the construction of the future European Extremely Large Telescope, which will also have multiple laser guide star units.



ESO/TNO/Fred Kamphues

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Publicatiedatum:5 december 2011 10:00
Grootte:2848 x 4288 px

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Naam:4LGSF Optical Tube Assembly 1
Type:Unspecified : Technology : Observatory : Telescope

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