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New Laser on Keck II Telescope Inspires Photographers

Photonics.com
Jun 2011
KAMUELA, Hawaii, June 13, 2011 — The new laser on the W.M. Keck II telescope on the Big Island of Hawaii has inspired two avid Mauna Kea photographers to capture the light show in a series of stunning images and videos.

The Keck II Observatory operates two 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes that compensate for atmospheric aberrations. The twin domes of the telescopes feature a suite of advanced instruments, including imagers, multiobject spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectroscopy and a laser guide star adaptive optics system that cancels out much of the interference caused by Earth’s turbulent atmosphere.

The observatory is a private 501(c)3 organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

Andrew Cooper, electrical engineer at Keck Observatory, captured several views from the location of another Mauna Kea telescope, the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) on the summit ridge. Cooper combined 23 photographs, each with one-minute exposures, producing a photograph alive with star trails (as the Earth rotated for 23 minutes) and yellow lasers cutting through the sky.

"Lasers 3 over Mauna Kea" from Andrew Cooper on Vimeo,

"During the exposure, the Keck II laser is aimed right over the camera at the Milky Way's galactic core," Cooper told Discovery News. As the Earth rotated for those 23 minutes, the laser beam stayed focused on the center of our galaxy, making the laser appear "thicker" than the adaptive optics lasers on the Japanese Subaru telescope and Keck I.

Going one step further, Cooper decided to create a short, yet dazzling, time-lapse video of the trio of lasers in operation. "The video is all 91 exposures, animated at 10 fps; thus 90 minutes are compressed to nine seconds," Cooper said.

(See also: Ground-Based Lasers Map Earth’s Magnetic Field)

For more information, visit: www.keckobservatory.org 
 

More than 90 one-minute exposures were compiled to make this image of the triple laser show of Keck I & II and Subaru Telescope on May 26. (Image: Andrew Cooper, Keck Observatory)












In March 2011, for the first time, both Keck telescopes launched lasers together at zenith. This shot was taken from between the telescopes. (Image: Andrew Cooper, Keck Observatory)



















The new Keck I laser is launched via a series of mirrors through the center of the telescope, which makes for a brighter, tighter guide star. (Image: Andrew Cooper, Keck Observatory)


















Keck I & II on the first night of their dual lasers, as seen from the Subaru Telescope. (Image: Dan Birchall, NAOJ)


GLOSSARY
adaptive optics
Optical components or assemblies whose performance is monitored and controlled so as to compensate for aberrations, static or dynamic perturbations such as thermal, mechanical and acoustical disturbances, or to adapt to changing conditions, needs or missions. The most familiar example is the "rubber mirror,'' whose surface shape, and thus reflective qualities, can be controlled by electromechanical means. See also active optics; phase conjugation.
laser guide star
An artificial star used to aid in adaptive optics imaging of the sky. The guide star is provided from a telescope system on the ground and is directed into the imaged region. The wavefront distortions are accounted for by transmission of the source through the atmosphere.
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