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 130 nights of science observing at the Palomar Observatory 60-inch telescope (with over 18,000 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

June 10th, 2015 We are wrapping up our last Robo-AO observing run at Palomar Observatory in a few nights. The last five years have been fantastic at Palomar and we couldn't have been successful without the support of such a dedicated and helpful observatory staff. Thank you all! We will soon be hard at work preparing for our next deployment - stay tuned for an announcement soon.

The June 2015 observing team (during robotic operations): Becky, Larissa, Reed, Carl, Nick and Christoph.

March 4th, 2015 Robo-AO has discovered the second known case of a planet residing in a quadruple star system. The findings help researchers understand how multiple star systems can influence the development and fate of planets. Read more in NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory News and in an Institute for Astronomy press release.

This artist's conception shows the 30 Ari system, which includes four stars and a planet. Robo-AO discovered the orange-red star in the upper left, bringing the total number of known stars in the system to four. The planet, a gas giant, orbits its primary star (yellow) in about a year's time. Image copyright: Karen Teramura, UH IfA.

January 27th, 2015 Visible light adaptive optics imaging from the Robo-AO system helped in accurately determining the relative sizes of the five Earth-sized planets orbiting their ancient (11.2 billion years old) host star, Kepler-444. Read more in the news and the journal paper led by the University of Birmingham's Dr. Tiago Campante.

Artist's interpretation of Kepler-444. (Tiago Campante/Peter Devine)

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.