Autonomous laser-adaptive-optics for few-meter-class telescopes

Robo-AO is the first autonomous laser adaptive optics system and science instrument operating on sky. The system robotically executes large scale surveys, monitors long-term astrophysical dynamics and characterizes newly discovered transients, all at the visible diffraction limit. The first of many envisioned systems has finished over 115 nights of science observing at the Palomar Observatory 60-inch telescope (with over 16,000 robotic observations executed). The system will be augmented in 2014 with two new infrared cameras: a very high-speed, low-noise, tip-tilt sensor provided by U. Hawai`i and a 2 arc minute field-of-view camera, which can also double as a tip-tilt sensor, being developed jointly between Caltech and IUCAA. The new cameras will widen the spectral bandwidth of observations, increase available sky coverage, and enable deeper visible imaging using adaptive-optics sharpened infrared tip-tilt guide sources.

The Robo-AO project, led by Principal Investigator Christoph Baranec, with Software Lead Reed Riddle, Project Scientist Nicholas Law, Co-Investigator A. N. Ramaprakash, and students and collaborators, is a collaboration between Caltech Optical Observatories and the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics. It is partially funded by the National Science Foundation under grants AST-0906060, AST-0960343 and AST-1207891, the Office of Naval Research under grant N00014-11-1-0903, by the Mount Cuba Astronomical Foundation, by a gift from Samuel Oschin and by the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum.

Recent News

December 18th, 2014 Robo-AO was used to confirm the first discovered Kepler K2 exoplanet candidate by using high-resolution imaging of its host star to answer whether there are any very nearby stellar companions which may be contaminating the light curve measurements. Read more in the IfA press release and the journal paper led by CfA graduate student Andrew Vanderburg.

November 13th, 2014 The Robo-AO team has been selected for funding by NASA's Exoplanets Research Program (XRP) to complete the high-angular-resolution survey of Kepler exoplanet host stars.

November 5th, 2014: Robo-AO is featured in a Boston University College of Engineering video, at 0:45, describing the deformable mirrors developed by BU, as well as many of their applications. In addition to adaptive optics technology, the Robo-AO team is collaborating with BU astronomers on several exoplanet focused science programs.

This is a segment of a larger film representing research inspired by Boston University College of Engineering faculty and their respective research teams. Copyright 2014, Transforming Society, Body Echo LLC. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

October 1st, 2014: During our last observing run, we took a few images of Uranus as it was reported recently that massive storms were observed on its surface. Upon inspection of the reduced data, we could in fact see some of the storm activity, in addition to four of the Uranian moons, as seen below.

Observation of Uranus by Robo-AO.

September 2nd, 2014: This is the last night of our last observing run for the summer of 2014. We finished observing all but a handful of the Kepler candidate exoplanet host stars and demonstrated for the first time the operation of an extremely low-noise infrared detector for infrared tip-tilt sensing and correction (which will eventually be used in larger telescope instruments and adaptive optics systems).

Christoph and Reed with the Robo-AO laser propagating from the P60 telescope dome.

August 14th, 2014: "Astronomical instrumentation: Atmospheric blurring has a new enemy," by Brent Ellerbroek (TMT), describing Robo-AO's first large survey, appears in the current Nature News and Views.

August 4th, 2014: A press release titled, "Laser-wielding Robot Probes Exoplanet Systems," has just been posted which highlights two recent Robo-AO papers: one on the Robo-AO instrument and the first of our large survey papers, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters (preprint) and the Astrophysical Journal (preprint) respectively.

July 15th, 2014: We're in the middle of our second of three summer observing runs with Robo-AO at Palomar. We're continuing to commission and integrate the infrared tip-tilt sensor with the Robo-AO software.

The July 2014 observing team: Dani, Christoph and Reed (in front of Robo-AO with attached infrared tip-tilt sensor).

June 27th, 2014: Robo-AO is at the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation in Montreal, Canada with 5 talks and 1 poster that used Robo-AO data or technology:

N. LawTwelve-thousand laser-AO observations: first results from the Robo-AO large surveys
C. BaranecSecond generation Robo-AO instruments and systems
R. RiddleThe Robo-AO automated intelligent queue system
D. AtkinsonObservatory Deployment and Characterization of SAPHIRA HgCdTe APD Arrays
C. BaranecPULSE: The Palomar Ultraviolet Laser for the Study of Exoplanets
S. SeversonKAPAO First Light: the design, construction and operation of a low-cost natural guide star adaptive optics system

June 13th, 2014: We're in the middle of our first of three summer observing runs with Robo-AO at Palomar. In addition to supporting science operations, we'll be starting to integrate the new low-noise infrared tip-tilt sensor we brought with us from Hawai`i.

The June 2014 observing team: Shane, Dani, Reed, Gina and Christoph.

May 1st, 2014: This summer, the Robo-AO project will be partnering with Disk Detective, a Zooniverse citizen science project to find dusty debris disks, the birthplace of planets, around stars. Robo-AO will be used to capture high-resolution images of stars with excess infrared light as identified by NASA's WISE mission. The Robo-AO observations will be critical in determining whether the excess light is caused by nearby background objects or actual debris disks.

March 3rd, 2014: Reed Riddle presented a talk on Robo-AO at the Optical Society of Southern California meeting on March 12th.

February 18th, 2014: Robo-AO's PI, Christoph Baranec, has been selected as a 2014 Sloan Research Fellow, based on the successful results from the prototype Robo-AO and plans for installing a facility version of Robo-AO on the University of Hawaii 2.2-m telescope.

February 14th, 2014: Christoph's Caltech Astronomy Colloquium, Scientific highlights from the Palomar Robo-AO system and plans for a Mauna Kea Robo-AO, is now online:

February 7th, 2014: High school senior Ganesh Ravichandran has been named a semifinalist in the 2014 Intel Science Talent Search Competition for his astronomy project, titled "Close Companions to Kepler Objects of Interest: Results from a Large Adaptive Optics Survey," which used data from our Robo-AO Kepler Planetary Candidate Survey. Click to read more.

January 7th, 2014: Robo-AO is at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington DC with 2 talks and 5 posters that used Robo-AO data or technology:

T. MortonVALFAST: Secure Probabilistic Validation of Hundreds of Kepler Planet Candidates
B. MontetLHS 6343: Precise Constraints on the Mass and Radius of a Transiting Brown Dwarf Discovered by Kepler
R. ThorpStudy of the Impact of Stellar Multiplicity on Planet Occurrence and Properties (Poster)
J. LongPerformance Characterization of KAPAO, a Low-Cost Natural Guide Star Adaptive Optics Instrument
M. BottomPULSE: the Palomar Ultraviolet Laser for the Study of Exoplanets
S. PonteDetection of an Extrasolar Planet Candidate in Habitable Zone of a Low-Mass Binary
J. CurtisRotation and activity at 3 Gyr with Ruprecht 147

December 17th, 2013: We have submitted for publication the results of the first season of the Robo-AO Kepler Planetary Candidate Survey. This study represents the largest single adaptive optics survey to date and is just the beginning of our goal to observe every Kepler planet candidate host star to search for blended nearby stars, which may be physically associated companions and/or responsible for transit false positives.

The 53 Kepler planet candidates resolved into multiple stars by Robo-AO, 43 of which are new discoveries.