Adaptive Optics Details New Space Images From Gemini Observatory
July 3, 2013

Adaptive Optics Details New Space Images From Gemini Observatory

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Scientists at the Gemini Observatory in Chile have just released the first new images of space created with their state-of-the-art adaptive optics system, called GeMS.

An acronym for Gemini Multi-conjugate adaptive optics System, GeMS allows scientists at the observatory to capture deep-space images without the usual distortions created by Earth's atmosphere.

"What we have seen so far signals an incredible capability that leaps ahead of anything in space or on the ground -- and it will for some time," said Robert Blum, Deputy Director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

The Gemini scientists have released several images that include images of star-forming regions, colliding galaxies, and a particularly interesting star cluster known as RMC136.

According to project scientists, GeMS uses a system known as "multi-conjugate adaptive optics," which captures a larger area of the sky than other methods and uniquely sharp images across the entire field of view. The technique optimizes the Gemini Observatory's 8-meter mirror by a factor of 10 or 20, enabling astronomers to either look deeper into space or scan closer parts of the universe with a wider range of filters in search of new structural details.

"Each image tells a story about the scientific potential of GeMS," said Chile team leader Benoit Neichel.

According to Neichel, the recently released pictures show the observatory's new diverse "discovery space" while showing off its capacity to create vivid imagery.

The recently released images are already drawing rave reviews from various corners of the astronomy world.

"GeMS sets the new cool in adaptive optics," said Tim Davidge, an astronomer at Canada's Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. "It opens up all sorts of exciting science possibilities for Gemini, while also demonstrating technology that is essential for the next generation of ground-based mega-telescopes. With GeMS we are entering a radically new, and awesome, era for ground-based optical astronomy."

To create the images, GeMS uses five laser guided stars and several deformable mirrors to eliminate atmospheric distortions to starlight normally seen at other observatories.

Stuart Ryder of the Australian Astronomical Observatory said he's "blown away" by the amount of technology involved and hopes to utilize GeMS imagery in his own research on supernovae.

"I was fortunate enough to witness GeMS/GSAOI in action, and I was awestruck by the sight of the yellow-orange laser beam piercing the clear, moonlit night," Ryder said. "When one considers all the factors that have to work together, from clear skies, to a steady stream of meteors burning up in the upper atmosphere sprinkling enough sodium atoms to be excited by the laser -- it's wonderful to see it all come together."

The GeMS system was in development for about a decade and is currently in use at the Chilean observatory. It is operated under the Gemini Observatory program, which is a partnership among six countries: the United States, Chile, Canada, Australia, Argentina, and Brazil. The program also operates a similar observatory in Hawaii.

The Gemini Observatory has played a major role in several recent discoveries, including finding the closest star system to the sun in nearly 100 years.