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 83 nights of science observing at the Palomar Observatory 60-inch telescope (with over 10,000 robotic observations executed). The system will be augmented in 2014 with a low-noise wide field infrared camera, which doubles as a tip-tilt sensor, to widen the spectral bandwidth of observations and increase available sky coverage while also enabling 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

March 3rd, 2014: Reed Riddle will be be presenting Robo-AO at this month's Optical Society of Southern California meeting on March 12th. Registration to attend is required, please go to

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, 44 of which are new discoveries.

November 8th, 2013: Robo-AO had a strong presence at the Kepler Science Conference II held at NASA Ames, with 1 talk and 6 posters that used Robo-AO data or technology:

C. BaranecVisible-light laser-adaptive-optics imaging of thousands of exoplanet hosts with Robo-AO
N. LawRobotic Kepler follow-up: LGS-AO imaging of every KOI star
J. JohnsonHot on the Trail of Warm Planets Orbiting Cool Stars
P. MuirheadCharacterizing the Cool KOIs
A. TannerKepler Astrometry: An Attempt
B. MontetLHS 6343: Precise Constraints on the Mass and Radius of a Transiting Brown Dwarf Discovered by Kepler
C. BaranecPULSE: Palomar Ultraviolet Laser for the Study of Exoplanets

October 25th, 2013: We completed another 5-night observing run covering 800 additional observations including an intensive nightly campaign to monitor Comet ISON. The Robo-AO team also welcomes its newest graduate student, Gina Duggan, who will bring the Robo-AO infrared camera online next year and lead initial science observations.

Summer 2013: This summer sees a diaspora in Robo-AO leadership: Principal Investigator Christoph Baranec and Project Scientist Nicholas Law started faculty positons at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill repectively. Both will continue working with the Robo-AO system and data. In the meantime, Reed Riddle will take over Robo-AO operations at Palomar Observatory.


August 21st, 2013: This marks the end of the Robo-AO summer observing season with the automated odometer well past 9000 observations! This weekend, Christoph (and Nick via remote) will be following up many of the Robo-AO discoveries from this past run with the Keck laser adaptive optics system for further infrared characterization and Robo-AO will be lending its main science camera to CHIMERA next week. We also have a new time-lapse video of the laser captured from a camera bolted to the Robo-AO electronics rack: it shows the laser and sky from the telescope's point of view.

The Robo-AO, TripleSpec and CHIMERA observing teams in front of the Palomar 200" telescope: Dani, Leon, Christoph, Reed, Alex, Juliette and Phil.