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Adaptive Optics Technology

Images taken through air, and laser beams propagating through air, are blurred and degraded by atmospheric turbulence. "Adaptive optics" is a technology for sharpening turbulence-degraded images or laser beams, by using fast-moving, flexible mirrors to "unscramble" the optical distortion.
The key elements of an adaptive optics system are a wave-front sensor, an adaptive mirror, and a control computer, as shown in the diagram. They work together in the following way:

An optical wavefront passing through air is distorted by turbulence. The light is collected by the telescope, and fed to the AO system.

The wave-front sensor measures the distortion, the control computer calculates the mirror figure needed to remove the distortion, and this correcting figure is applied to the adaptive mirror, to reconstruct the undistorted image.

This procedure is repeated about 1000 times per second, to track the rapidly varying turbulence.

The technology is over thirty years old:

Driven by a range of new low-cost technologies, the adaptive optics industry is emerging from its historic military niche into a broad spectrum of new industrial markets. The proliferation of novel technologies and novel applications has created a vibrant new market for adaptive optics products and know-how.

Further Information

The website provides news and information about adaptive optics.
A list of books about adaptive optics and its applications is available at Amazon.

A useful introductory text book is Introduction to Adaptive Optics by Robert Tyson. A more detailed mathematical treatment is provided by Roggeman and Welsh's Imaging Through Turbulence.

Applications in vision science are covered in the recently published Adaptive Optics for Vision Science by J. Porter et al.

More general recent coverage of developments in industry and medicine is given in Adaptive Optics for Industry and Medicine: Proceedings of the 4th International Workshop edited by Ulrich Wittrock.

Recent contributions of adaptive optics to astronomical science are presented in Science with Adaptive Optics edited by W. Brandner and M. Kasper. Adaptive optics technologies used for astronomical research are described in F. Roddier's Adaptive Optics in Astronomy.

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