Archived News

June 19th, 2013: The Robo-AO team welcomes its newest student members: Chatarin "Mee" Wong-u-railertkun (Caltech) and Rachel Thorp (Caltech). Mee will be developing several methods to improve the non-common path calibration of the adaptive optics system and Rachel will be working with Jean-Michel Désert on using Robo-AO to study the impact of stellar multiplicity on the properties and occurrence rates of planets.

May 19th, 2013: Robo-AO PI, Christoph Baranec, presented results of the Robo-AO/Kepler KOI imaging campaign at the first TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) science meeting at MIT. Robo-AO will be crucial to validating planetary candidates identified by the TESS mission which may be more numerous by an order of magnitude than those identified by Kepler.

April 20th, 2013: Shortly before sunset on our sixth night of observing, Prof. Choi and Dr. Vetere's students from Pomona College were given a crash course on Robo-AO. Christoph explained the inner workings of the instrument, Reed presented an overview of the robotic software and Michał discussed the scientific goals of the cometary observations we'd be doing later in the night. Once the night began, the hard work was left to the robot.


The Robo-AO observing team hosts students from Pomona College.

April 4th, 2013: Robo-AO has been used to verify the absence of close visible companions to Kepler Object of Interest-256, an eclipsing M-dwarf/white-dwarf system, seen in the video below, that shows evidence of gravitational lensing. The results of the study, led by Phil Muirhead, appear in a NASA press release and in the Astrophysical Journal.


This artist's animation depicts KOI-256, an ultra-dense dead star, called a white dwarf, passing in front of a small red star. As the white dwarf crosses in front, its gravity is so great that it bends and magnifies the light of the red star. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

March 18th, 2013: We've recently submitted four US patent applications for technologies developed during the course of the Robo-AO project.

February 12th, 2013: Our video paper on Robo-AO has just been published online. It is also highlighted in the Journal of Visualized Experiments' "February 2013: This Month in JoVE."

February 1st, 2013: Want to know how Robo-AO operates so efficiently and how future astronomical instruments will be automated? Check out Robo-AO software lead Reed Riddle's presentation, "Building a Better Robot: Designing Automated Control Systems for Astronomical Instruments," at the next Cahill astronomy tea talk on Monday, February 4th.

January 21st, 2013: We're just finishing up the last of our 2012B Robo-AO time. It's been a very productive semester with well over 5,000 objects observed to date. We will be back again in April to support six different science programs for the 2013A observing semester.


The January 2013 observing team: Christoph, Michał, Reed. Not pictured: Nick, Shriharsh and Leon.

January 7th, 2013: Robo-AO will be at the 221st American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach this week. Check out our meeting flyer for a listing of the nine talks and posters to be presented which feature Robo-AO science and technology.

December 17th, 2012: Robo-AO has appeared in the latest issue of Caltech's Engineering and Science magazine. Read the article by Marcus Woo.

November 15th, 2012: Robo-AO made an excellent showing at the 2012 Palomar Science Meeting with a science overview talk (Christoph), three posters (Reed, Shriharsh and Sergi) and description of how the system is verifying Kepler transit candidates during Prof. Johnson's public talk. Coincidentally, Nick presented the recently submitted Robo-AO/PTF results at the University of Toronto the same day.

October 18th, 2012: Robo-AO was recently used to verify a new technique developed by graduating senior Emil Terziev and his mentor, Project Scientist Nick Law, for finding and characterizing binary stars below the seeing limit in large synoptic surveys. The observations are detailed in a recently submitted paper to The Astrophysical Journal.


Robo-AO adaptive-optics images of the binarity test targets. Each image is 10 by 10 arc seconds in size. The ellipses indicate the predicted binary orientation and the color indicates confidence level of the predicted companion (red: no companion; yellow: possible companion; green: very likely companion).

October 8th, 2012: We're currently on night 6 of a 10 night observing run. Reinstallation of the laser went very well, and we're seeing a marked improvement of the telescope transmission after the aluminization of the primary mirror. Shriharsh also has the DIMM-MASS taking data at the 18-inch dome, so we're able to measure the vertical turbulence profile while Robo-AO is operating.


The October 2012 observing team: Reed, Sabyasachi, Christoph and Shriharsh.

September 14th, 2012: The 60-inch telescope primary mirror will be recoated next week and requires the Robo-AO laser projector (which has been mounted on the side of the telescope since January 2011) to be removed first. This was done with the assistance of Palomar Observatory staff during the instrument exchage at the end of our science observing run. We will reinstall the laser when we're back in early October for our next observing session.


The September 2012 observing team with the Palomar staff who assisted with the laser projector removal: Greg, John, Reed, Shriharsh, Karl, Steve and Christoph.

September 10th, 2012: Robo-AO is starting a 4-night science run tonight. We also caputred a time-lapse video of the installation on the 60-inch telescope after the removal of CCD22. The video features software lead Reed, as well as Steve, Mike and John of Palomar Observatory.

September 3rd, 2012: We've returned from a 1000+ target observing run with Robo-AO at the 60-inch telescope (pictured below at sunset). The weather and conditions were generally fantastic and we were able to successfully test (and are now using) Kristina's new auto focusing routine. We've got a few days off until our next run which starts next Monday.


The August/September 2012 observing team: Christoph, Reed and Nick. Not pictured: Kristina and Shriharsh.

August 9th, 2012: We took a number of new time-lapse movies of the Robo-AO system in action. Below is one taken during the last observing run close to the full moon.

August 7th, 2012: The team is returning from a successful observing run at Palomar today. Despite a few challenges and summer storms, we observed approximately 1000 targets including a few target-of-opportunity objects as indicated by observers using the 48- and 200-inch telescopes. In addition, Ashley was able to test the image quality assessment and display software she had developed over the summer on live data captured with Robo-AO.


The July/August 2012 observing team: Christoph, Reed, Shriharsh, Ashley and Nick (not pictured, remote from Toronto).

August 5th, 2012: The Robo-AO team caught the Curiosity landing video feed (while continuing to take data on Kepler targets) during the second-to-last night of our observing run. Go Curiosity!


Shriharsh, Ashley and Reed in the P60 control room just after Curiosity landed on Mars.

July 27th, 2012: Robo-AO is starting a 10-night science observing run tonight.

July 19th, 2012: The Robo-AO observing team has returned from a seven night observing run at Palomar Observatory. During the ~4.5 nights of clear weather, the system completed on order of 700 observations (that's ~150/night). We're also happy to welcome a new member to our ranks, Kristina Hogstrom, who will be developing additional robotic automation routines for Robo-AO (when she's not also working on the MINERVA project).


The July 2012 observing team: Shriharsh, Reed, Christoph and Kristina.

July 8th, 2012: Five members of the Robo-AO team have returned from the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation conference held in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Our recent success with Robo-AO was highlighted during a talk presented by Christoph and also with a poster presented by Reed. Proceedings from the conference are posted here. In the meantime, the team is preparing for another week-long science run with Robo-AO starting on July 11th.

June 23rd, 2012: During our observing run last week, we took a set of time lapse images of the Robo-AO UV laser propagating from the 60" telescope dome. Each image is 25 seconds long, taken every 30 seconds, and compiled into the video below. Over the course of the approximately three and a half hours of the video, we observed a total of 63 targets.

June 22nd, 2012: Christoph Baranec presented the Robo-AO project to the National Optical Astronomy Observatory during their Summer FLASH series of talks.

June 20th, 2012: The Robo-AO team welcomes its newest student members: Ashley Villar (MIT), Corinne Vassallo (Carnegie Mellon) and Dan Filler (Univ. of Utah).


Robo-AO 2012 summer students: Ashley, Corinne and Dan.

June 19th, 2012: The first Robo-AO science observing team has just returned from Palomar with a record haul of AO observations. On June 17th, the robotic software (coded and debugged almost exclusively by software lead Reed Riddle) was able to complete >120 scientifically useful observations all by itself:


Reductions of the automated AO observations executed by Robo-AO on the night of June 17th, 2012. Each box represents a 2 by 2 arc second field of view, and each observation totals 90 seconds of open shutter time on the visible camera in i-band.


The June 2012 observing team: Reed, Christoph, Nick and Shriharsh.

June 8th, 2012: The Robo-AO team is getting prepared for a four night observing run next week. We'll be starting our massive binary survey and Kepler KOI follow-up programs.

May 23rd, 2012: Robo-AO PI, Christoph Baranec, has been awarded funds from the NSF-ATI program for the integration, testing and deployment of a wide-field, low-noise infrared camera for Robo-AO (link). The camera dewar will be engineered by IUCAA under the direction of Robo-AO Co-I, Prof. A. N. Ramaprakash. We expect the new camera to be operating as part of the Robo-AO system by mid-2013, and not only will it execute very sensitive infrared observations, but it will also enable infrared tip-tilt sensing using adaptive-optics sharpened stars, allowing for very deep diffraction-limited imaging at visible wavelengths.

May 15th, 2012: We've returned from another awesome observing run at Palomar. While we are busily working away at reducing all of our data, here are a few gems we captured while testing the brand new eyepiece:


Mars imaged on the night of May 9th.


And the May 2012 commissioning team: Christoph, Shriharsh and Reed.

May 3rd, 2012: We are busy preparing for our last commissioning run at Palomar starting next week during which we'll be testing the pointing of the refurbished secondary mount, the new eyepiece, and the automated observing software.

April 19th, 2012: One of our SURF students from 2011, Ankit Arya (Mississippi State '12), won first place in the Research Presentation category of MSUís Undergraduate Research Symposium with his presentation entitled, "Data Reduction and Analysis Software for Robo-AO LGS Adaptive Optics System."

March 9th, 2012: Robo-AO is available for use in 2012B through Caltech's TAC and JPL's JPAC. Please contact Christoph or Nick for more information and before submitting any proposal.

March 7th, 2012: Robo-AO's PI has been awarded funds from the Mount Cuba Astronomical Foundation to enable the completion of software necessary to make Robo-AO fully robotic. This will allow us to execute several automated science programs later this year.

February 7th, 2012: Robo-AO is featured in another article, "Eyes on the sky," by Greg Blackman in Electro Optics magazine.

February 2nd, 2012: We've uploaded more images from our last run onto our Astro Gallery.

January 29th, 2012: Robo-AO captured high-resolution images of SN2012A in NGC3239 on the night of January 9th PST. After being notified of this target of opportunity, JSpOC was able to send us open-windows for safe lasing of the target within 3 hours. Our thanks to JSpOC for the quick turnaround!


SN2012A imaged with Robo-AO on January 10, 12:25 UT in r'-, i'- and z'-bands.

January 18th, 2012: Robo-AO has captured some of the sharpest real-time visible-light images of Jupiter from the ground:

January 16th, 2012: Data from our last observing is rapidly being reduced. Below is one of our favorite globular clusters: M3.


The core of M3 imaged with and without the Robo-AO adaptive optics system operating.

January 12th, 2012: We've just returned from another very technically and scientifically productive commissioning run. We'll hopefully be able to share some of our exciting images and movies in the next few weeks.


The January 2012 Robo-AO commissioning team (left to right): Reed, Sujit and Christoph. Not pictured: Shriharsh.

January 3rd, 2012: What better way to start off the new year than a commissioning run at Palomar. We've made some tweaks to the hardware which we'll be checking out, but primarily we'll be testing and debugging the robotic software and automations. We're leaving tonight and will be back late next week.

December 7th, 2011: Data from our November commissioning run has been used to tentatively identify a triple star system, previously thought to be a White-dwarf - M-dwarf binary star system. The observations appear in a recently submitted paper led by Project Scientist Nicholas Law.

December 6th, 2011: Science team member Prof. John Johnson explains how Robo-AO can search for nearby companions to Kepler objects in visible wavelengths as part of his "Measuring the Physical Properties of Kepler's M Dwarf Planet Hosts" presentation at the most recent Kepler science meeting.

December 1st, 2011: Robo-AO is featured in an AIP/Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science video.

October 26th, 2011: Robo-AO has been featured in a very thorough and well written article by R. Ramachandran in the latest issue of India's National Magazine, Frontline.

October 16th, 2011: More reduced data from the September observing run. Below are images of Kruger 60 A/B imaged in the visible and near infrared. While the Robo-AO corrected visible image takes advantage of post-facto shift-and-add processing to compensate for image motion caused by turbulence, the corrected infrared image was taken while the visible camera was stabilizing image motion by driving the fast tip-tilt mirror.


Kruger 60 imaged in the near-infrared from lambda = 1 to 1.7 um (left) and in z'-band lambda = 890 nm (right). The red dwarfs have a projected angular separation of 1.86".

October 4th, 2011: Robo-AO's PI was invited to present the Robo-AO project at the ongoing UC-CfAO Adaptive Optics Seminar at UC Berkeley organized by Gaspard DuchÍne. A copy of the presentation, which includes many new results from our September observing run, can be found here.

September 28th, 2011: Photos from the IUSSTF meeting at IUCAA have been posted in a new photo album. We're working on making the rest of the meeting presentations available as soon as possible, please bear with us.

September 15th, 2011: The Robo-AO team has just returned from another very successful 4-night commissioning run at Palomar's P60 telescope. In addition to field testing many new system functions (e.g. simultaneous high-order and tip-tilt correction, automated laser acquisition routines) we started putting the AO system through its paces by working on several different science programs and of course observing the famous PTF11kly supernova discovered by the Palomar Transient Factory.


The Robo-AO system as installed on the P60 telescope during the September 2011 commissioning run.

August 29th, 2011: Our IUSSTF sponsored Workshop on Astronomy with Adaptive Optics on Moderate-sized Telescopes has concluded. A special thanks to all of the IUCAA staff supporting this meeting - it went really well!

August 16th, 2011: With a few more nights, we were able to put Robo-AO through its paces on a number of interesting targets. Please see the new Astro Gallery for a larger collection of Robo-AO images. Below is just a sampling, NGC7662 (a.k.a. the Blue Snowball) and a section of M13.



The August 2011 Robo-AO commissioning team (left to right): Athanasios, Ankit, Nick, Christoph, Shriharsh and Reed.

August 14th, 2011: The high-order AO loop was closed for the first time with a binary star in the visible camera! We're still working on including tip-tilt correction (which causes the images to still bounce around.) More to come shortly...

August 13th, 2011: The replacement Pockels cell is working, the new UVCCD is seeing more laser light and we were able to realign the system to the now off-axis laser projector. Below is an uncorrected image of the laser wavefront sensor - the large pattern deformation is due to mirror and collimation errors with the P60 telescope. We were able to close the high-order AO loop but not yet on a science target. Over the next four nights we will be testing the AO correction on a variety of objects.


August 8th, 2011: The preliminary program for the "Astronomy with Adaptive Optics on Moderate-sized Telescopes" has just been released. See the program here.

June 25th, 2011: Robo-AO's PI presented a talk entitled, "Pushing the limits of Adaptive Optics: P3K and Robo-AO," to the Friends of Palomar Observatory. Thanks go to Scott Kardel for organizing the talk.


June 22nd, 2011: Robo-AO's next project and science workshop, funded by the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum, will be held on August 22nd to the 25th at IUCAA (Pune, India).

June 8th, 2011: Robo-AO's PI has been awarded funds from the Office of Naval Research through the DURIP program to support "Research on astrometric error sources in mercury cadmium telluride arrays." This award will greatly enhance Robo-AO's infrared imaging capability and its ability to perform ultra-precision astrometric measurements - useful for discovering planets from the wobble of stars and mapping the dark matter distribution in our galaxy. Read the DoD news release here.

May 23rd, 2011: The Robo-AO team has just returned from another week of commissioning at Palomar observatory. Despite the loss of over half of the week due to high humidity, the team was able to make significant progress. The laser wavefront sensor was demonstrated to work properly, including the high-speed optical switch (Pockels cell) used for range-gating the laser pulses. Unfortunately during the run, our Pockels cell crystal experienced an unrecoverable failure before we were able to close the high-order adaptive optics loop and demonstrate diffraction-limited visible light imaging. The Pockels cell is being replaced with a more robust design and we're hoping to get back to Palomar in late July with the final instrument.

Images from the wavefront sensor detector without (left) and with (right) the high-speed optical switch/range-gate used to isolate the backscattered light to a depth of 370 m at a distance of 10 km. The green boxes outline the borders of the lenses in the Shack-Hartmann micro-lens array.

Real time video of the laser through the Shack-Hartmann wavefront sensor.

A long exposure image of Robo-AO's ultraviolet laser firing from the P60 telescope.

April 26th, 2011: Robo-AO is back at Caltech after a week at the P60. Unfortunately the weather was less than ideal and we had the equivalent of 1 clear night. We were able to align the laser to the high-order wavefront sensor and get the range gating system working. Fine tuning of the wavefront sensor will need to be done when we're back on sky starting the 16th of May. In the meantime, here are a few neat pictures captured during the run:

The white donut in the center of the picture is an image of the telescope pupil, illuminated by the moon, projected onto the MEMS deformable mirror. This lets us easily align the first fold mirror in the system - registering the telescope's pupil with the deformable mirror.

These are images from the UV sensitive SLR camera showing the real-time alignment of the laser to the telescope. The camera was placed behind the Cassegrain focus while Shriharsh (seen in silhouette) manually adjusted the laser's pointing with an actuated fold mirror. The bright beam is the laser propagating from behind the secondary mirror, which once centered to the telescope's axis, illuminates the entire pupil.

April 18th, 2011: Robo-AO has just been mounted on Palomar's P60 telescope to commence a week of on-sky testing of the range-gated UV laser guide star. Stay tuned for more updates soon.

Robo-AO on the P60 telescope: laser projector (left), Cassegrain instrument (center) and electronics rack (right.)

April 7th 2011: Project Scientist Nicholas Law highlighted Robo-AO in his presentation, "Taking the Twinkle Out of the Stars," as part of the University of Toronto's public lecture series.

February 23rd, 2011: The baseplate for the Robo-AO Cassegrain AO system and science instruments has been successfully installed on the P60 telescope at Palomar Observatory. Focusing light from the telescope's secondary mirror enters the instrument through a small hole at the center of the breadboard. A fold mirror will then direct light to a series of optics mounted to the underside of the breadboard.


The Robo-AO instrument baseplate attached to the fixed ring of the P60 telescope's Cassegrain focus position.

February 11th, 2011: The baseplate for the Robo-AO Cassegrain AO system and science instruments has just arrived. We'll shortly test-fit the interface to the P60 telescope at Palomar in preparation of populating the breadboard with all of our optics, cameras, calibration sources and opto-electronics.


The Cassegrain instrument baseplate in Cahill, along with its designer, Jack Davis, giving his approval.

February 10th, 2011: We've just been awarded funds from the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum to host a several day workshop on Robo-AO science, technology and future deployments and plans. The workshop will be held at Robo-AO partner institution IUCAA in Pune, India. Dates and agenda pending.

January 23rd, 2011: Our team has just returned from a very successful installation and testing of the laser periscope at the P60. More pictures will be posted soon, but until then, please see the Palomar Skies Blog by Scott Kardel for a detailed description and more pictures from our testing. A huge thanks as well to the entire Palomar staff who have been extremely helpful and supportive during our phased deployment of Robo-AO at the observatory!


The view of the laser beam from the CCD22/GRB camera mounted at the Cassegrain focus of the P60 telescope.


A panoramic image of the laser beam exiting the projector box and being redirected along the telescope axis by the laser periscope.

January 12th, 2011: Today we tested installing the new laser periscope structure to the P60 telescope in advance of our upcoming second laser testing run next week. Many thanks again to the Palomar staff, especially Steve Kunsman, Greg Van Idsinga and Jeff Zolkower, for their assistance and patience with our project.


Laser periscope installed on the P60 telescope.

January 7th, 2011: We have openings this summer for up to three undergraduates on adaptive optics related research through Caltech's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. Please see the SURF announcements: Link 1 Link 2

January 5th, 2011: Our engineering grade near-infrared camera has just arrived!


"First-light" image from our near-infrared camera showing Millikan Library at wavelengths spanning 1.0 to 1.7 um.

December 23rd, 2010: Several key components have arrived: the periscope assembly and many of the custom optics, including flat and off-axis parabolic mirrors. The optics will be sent out to be coated with a specialized high-reflectivity coating that spans ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared wavelengths. The periscope will be painted in the new year with a special paint that mitigates stray light reflections.


Arrival of custom optics for the Cassegrain AO system.

December 13th, 2010: We're awaiting the imminent delivery of the laser periscope assembly. The periscope will be used to jog the laser guide star beam from off-axis to on-axis, reducing wavefront measurement errors due to perspective elongation. The periscope will be installed and tested in January 2011.

September 29th, 2010: Robo-AO laser run featured on Palomar Skies blog.

September 27th, 2010: Continued testing of the laser guide star including beam quality and photometry at the different adjustable heights, laser steering, and projector flexure.


Robo-AO laser at the P60 under cloud cover.


The Robo-AO laser commissioning team in front of the black laser projector enclosure (from left to right): Shriharsh, Christoph (PI), Reed and Hillol. Not pictured: Alex and Marland.

September 25th, 2010: Optimization of laser spot size on sky with the laser projector internal focus.


Image of the laser beam with the P60 CCD22 camera. We achieved a spot size of ~2.1" at 10 km in 1.5" visible seeing. The bow-tie like image is the result of the defocused laser beam at heights other than 10 km.

September 24th, 2010: The first propagation of the Robo-AO laser guide star from the 60 inch telescope at Palomar Observatory.



July 2nd, 2010: Delivery of the laser periscope mirrors.



June 25th, 2010: Delivery of the 6.5" UV laser projector output lens.



May 26th, 2010: Successful test fit of the Robo-AO UV laser guide star projector assembly on the P60 telescope.



April 30th, 2010: Graduate student Shriharsh Tendulkar (left) explains the working of the laboratory adaptive optics system to a visiting group of undergraduate students and their professors from Pomona College.



February 25th, 2010: Successful power test of the UV laser in the lab. Christoph Baranec (PI; right) sporting this season's latest in full body laser safety gear.



February 23rd, 2010: Palomar staff assist with identifying an appropriate place to mount Robo-AO's UV laser guide star on the P60 telescope.



December 28th, 2009: First closed-loop operation of the laboratory adaptive optics system at 1.2kHz. The above shows the wavefront sensor pixels before (left) and during (right) closed-loop operation.



The Robo-AO system correcting turbulence simulated with a rotating CD jewel cover, approximating median seeing conditions at Palomar Observatory. The system uses a Shack-Hartmann sensor for high-order wavefront sensing and a visible imaging camera for image motion sensing. The observation wavelength for the above movie is 632 nm.


May 2009: Setup and re-alignment of the adaptive optics system in the new Cahill lab space.