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Laser Guide Stars Focus of Imiloa Presentation Friday

Posted July 17, 2013, 11:17 AM HST Updated July 17, 2013, 04:08 PM HST
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A laser beam is used at the Keck II telescope to create a guide star. Photo courtesy Joey Stein/W.M. Keck Observatory.

Artificial stars will be the topic of discussion during a presentation Friday at the Imiloa Astronomy Center.

Rachel Rampy of the W.M. Keck Observatory will explain how the use of lasers helps astronomers reduce stars’ twinkle in order to obtain much clearer images of celestial bodies.

Her talk on “Laser Guide Stars of Adaptive Optics” will begin at 7 p.m.

The twinkle is the product of Earth’s turbulent atmosphere, the effects of which are present even at the rarefied 13,600-foot elevation of Mauna Kea where the twin Keck telescopes operate.

However, the development of adaptive optics has allowed astronomers to make corrections for the atmospheric effects. But to calibrate the AO system requires a bright star to use as a beacon, which restricted its use to only about 5% of the sky.

Then it was discovered that a high-powered laser could be used to create a “guide star” which expanded the use of AO to nearly the entire sky.

“This capability is responsible for expanding our understanding of the environment around our galaxy’s central supermassive black hole, and is necessary for direct imaging studies of solar system formation and potentially habitable planets around other stars,” Imiloa officials said in a statement.

This talk will provide an overview of how adaptive optics technology functions and the enhancement provided by the laser beacons.

Rampy came to the Keck Observatory from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where her doctoral studies focused on the use of laser beacons and related research.

The presentation is part of the center’s Maunakea Skies program which is held on the third Friday of each month. The cost is $10 for Imiloa’s non-members, while members enjoy reduced or free entry depending on their category.

Tickets are available at the Imiloa front desk or by calling 969-9703. Imiloa is located at 600 Imiloa Pl. in the University of Hawaii at Hilo Science and Technology Park off Komohana and Nowelo Streets in Hilo.

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