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Telescope Technology Aids Ocular Health

Photonics.com
Aug 2011
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., Aug. 2, 2011 — The James Webb Space Telescope is under budgetary pressures that may scuttle the deep-space scanning mission, but its technologies are already proving useful to human eye health here on Earth.

"The Webb telescope program has enabled a number of improvements in measurement technology for astronomy, mirror fabrication, and measurement of human eyes, diagnosis of ocular diseases and potentially improved surgery," said Dan Neal, a research fellow at Abbott Medical Optics Inc.


The Scanning Shack Hartmann System is a pair of large test stations used to measure the mirror segments of the James Webb Space Telescope. As part of that program, several improvements were made to the wavefront sensor technology, allowing eye health instruments to be aligned more precisely. (Photo: Abbott Medical Optics Inc.)

If completed, the Webb telescope will be the most scientifically powerful telescope NASA has ever built — 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope. The Webb telescope will find the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, connecting the time span between the Big Bang to the formation of our own Milky Way galaxy. It also will peer through dusty clouds to see stars and planets being born, connecting star formation in our own galaxy to that of our own solar system.

"The advanced wavefront sensing technology developed for testing the Webb telescope's 18 primary mirrors led to the new applications in other areas," said Tony Hull of L3 Integrated Optical Systems Division-Tinsley Facility in Richmond, Calif., where the Webb's mirrors were recently polished to accuracies of less than one- millionth of an inch.


Artist's conception of the Webb telescope as of September 2009. (Image: NASA)

Wavefront sensing, which uses flexible mirrors and specialized software to measure the shape of the telescope’s mirrors during fabrication and to control the optics once the instrument is in orbit, is now also used by ophthalmologists to measure aberrations of the eye. Those measurements help with diagnosis, research, characterization and treatment of eye disorders.

A scanning and stitching technology developed for the Webb telescope has led to a number of innovative instrument concepts for more accurate measurement for contact lenses and intraocular lenses. Another benefit to eye health is that this technique can help map the topography of the eye more accurately.

Think of the surface of your eye as being as dented as the surface of the moon. Precise measurements of your eye's surface are helpful when assessing eyes for contact lenses. The scanning and stitching technology improvements have enabled eye doctors to get much more detailed information about the shape and topography of an eye, and to do it in seconds rather than hours. Four patents have been issued as result of innovations driven by the Webb telescope program. "These tools are now used to align and build the next generation of measuring devices for human eyes," Neal said.

(See also: NASA Makes Optical Tech Available to Industry)

For more information, visit: http://ipp.gsfc.nasa.gov/wavefront  


GLOSSARY
astronomy
The scientific observation of celestial radiation that has reached the vicinity of Earth, and the interpretation of these observations to determine the characteristics of the extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena that have emitted the radiation.
metrology
The science of measurement, particularly of lengths and angles.
ophthalmology
The branch of medicine involved in the study of the anatomy, functions, diseases and treatments of the eye.
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