No More 'twinkle, Twinkle' Little Star

TUCSON, Aug. 4 (UPI) — The twinkling of stars is a pretty sight but annoying to U.S. astronomers, who say a new technology can “switch off” the twinkle for clear, sharp stargazing.

University of Arizona astronomers have utilized a technique called laser adaptive optics that enables Earth-based telescopes to capture images as sharp as those taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, a university release said Wednesday.

The twinkle of stars is caused by turbulence in the lower layers of Earth’s atmosphere blurring light from celestial objects.

In the adaptive optics system, lasers are used to measure the turbulence, and the data is fed to the telescope’s adaptive mirror, which can adjust its shape a thousand times each second to compensate for the twinkle and deliver clear, sharp images.

Adaptive optics have been in use for 20 years, but had a serious shortcoming — they could only provide sharp images along a very narrow line of sight.

The Arizona team has developed the technology to give a much wider field of view, they say.

“It’s like being able to see sharp through a pin hole, while the rest of your field of view looks like frosted glass,” Michael Hart said. “Our technique makes the pin hole much bigger.”

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