We describe our seven year experience and the specific technical and environmental challenges we had to overcome while operating a telescope in the High Arctic, at the Eureka Weather Station, during the polar winter. The facility and the solutions implemented for remote control and maintenance are presented. We also summarize the observational challenges encountered in making precise and reliable star-photometric observations at sea-level.
In April and August ’03 two MACAO-VLTI curvature AO systems were installed on the VLT telescopes unit 2 and 3 in Paranal (Chile). These are 60 element systems using a 150mm bimorph deformable mirror and 60 APD’s as WFS detectors. Valuable integration & commissioning experience has been gained during these 2 missions. Several tests have been performed in order to evaluate system performance on the sky. The systems have proven to be extremely robust, performing in a stable fashion in extreme seeing condition (seeing up to 3”). Strehl ratio of 0.65 and residual tilt smaller than 10 mas have been obtained on the sky in 0.8” seeing condition. Weak guide source performance is also excellent with a strehl of 0.26 on a V~16 magnitude star. Several functionalities have been successfully tested including: chopping, off-axis guiding, atmospheric refraction compensation etc. The AO system can be used in a totally automatic fashion with a small overhead: the AO loop can be closed on the target less than 60 sec after star acquisition by the telescope. It includes reading the seeing value given by the site monitor, evaluate the guide star magnitude (cycling through neutral density filters) setting the close-loop AO parameters (system gain and vibrating membrane mirror stroke) including calculation of the command-matrix. The last 2 systems will be installed in August ’04 and in the course of 2005.
We report on observations with MACAO-VLTI to feed the VLT Interferometer in November 2003. The purpose of this observing run was to optimize the feed to the VLTI by varying certain parameters of the curvature AO system and of the interferometer instrument VINCI. All along the main concern about this instrument combination was the differential piston introduced by 2 independent AO systems. A special so-called “piston removal algorithm” has been developed especially for this purpose. Each DM Influence Function is carefully characterized and a pure piston mode is defined to compensate piston over the pupil produced by a given voltage set. Piston is reduced by ~20 using this algorithm. It was found that decreasing the system main gain, while reducing strehl ratio, also reduces high frequency vibrations on the DM and therefore OPD variations. A control frequency of 420 Hz instead of the nominal 350 Hz was found to improve substantially the coupling by reducing the excitation of the DM resonance (~700Hz). On bright stars, an improvement of a factor of 30 in the flux injection into the VINCI fibers was measured. Following these tests a successful observation of the active nucleus of NGC 1068 was performed leading to a visibility of 40.4±5.4% on an average baseline of 45.84 m. The K magnitude in the 60 mas central source is 9.2±0.4. The results already put some interesting constraints on the inner torus and central engine of the nucleus of NGC 1068 but mostly show that the combination MACAO-VLTI and VINCI opens the realm of extragalactic astronomy to interferometry.
MACAO-VLTI is a set of four adaptive optics systems dedicated to interferometry with the ESO 8 meter telescopes in Paranal, Chile. One of the most important requirements for the MACAO-VLTI is to keep the piston variations of the bimorph deformable mirror below 25 nm RMS in a time window of 48 msec. For this purpose, a piston removal algorithm has been developed, that uses a pre-calibrated set of voltages to compensate the natural piston of each influence function. This pre-calibration constitutes a critical laboratory measurement of the influence functions. Using Hadamard matrices, a (64 x 64) Shack-Hartman sensor and a capacitive sensor located at the center of the mirror (back-side), an accuracy better than 1% has been reached to characterize them. Various configurations were investigated to minimize the dynamical residual piston: the control matrix, the loop speed and the loop gain. Particular attention was paid to the influence functions non-linearities. An original indirect method was developed to measure the residual piston in real-time. We present here the methods and results obtained so far.
The accurate calibration of an AO system is fundamental in order to reach the top performance expected from design. To improve this aspect, we propose procedures for calibrating a curvature AO system in view of optimizing performances and robustness, based on the experience accumulated by the ESO AO team through the development of MACAO systems for VLTI and SINFONI. The approach maximizes the quality of the Interaction Matrix (IM) while maintaining the system in its linear regime and minimizing noise and bias on the measurement.
Over the past two years ESO has reinforced its efforts in the field of Adaptive Optics. The AO team has currently the challenging objectives to provide 8 Adaptive Optics systems for the VLT in the coming years and has now a world-leading role in that field. This paper will review all AO projects and plans. We will present an overview of the Nasmyth Adaptive Optics System (NAOS) with its infrared imager CONICA installed successfully at the VLT last year. Sodium Laser Guide Star plans will be introduced. The status of the 4 curvature AO systems (MACAO) developed for the VLT interferometer will be discussed. The status of the SINFONI AO module developed to feed the infrared integral field spectrograph (SPIFFI) will be presented. A short description of the Multi-conjugate Adaptive optics Demonstrator MAD and its instrumentation will be introduced. Finally, we will present the plans for the VLT second-generation AO systems and the researches performed in the frame of OWL.
Affordable adaptive optics on small telescopes allow to introduce the technology to a large community and provide opportunities to train new specialists in the field. We have developed a low order, low cost adaptive optics system for the 1.6m telescope of the Mont Megantic Observatory. The system corrects tip-tilt, focus, astigmatisms and one trefoil term. It explores a number of new approaches. The sensor receives a single out-of-focus image of the reference star. The central obstruction of the telescope can free the focus detection from the effect of seeing and allows a very small defocus. The deformable mirror is profiled so as to preserve a parabolic shape under pressure from actuators located at its edge. A separate piezoelectric platform drives the tilt mirror.
MACAO stands for Multi Application Curvature Adaptive Optics. A similar concept is applied to fulfill the need for wavefront correction for several VLT instruments. MACAO-VLTI is one of these built in 4 copies in order to equip the Coude focii of the ESO VLT's. The optical beams will then be corrected before interferometric recombination in the VLTI (Very Large Telescope Interferometer) laboratory. MACAO-VLTI uses a 60 elements bimorph mirror and curvature wavefront sensor. A custom made board processes the signals provided by the wavefront detectors, 60 Avalanche Photo-diodes, and transfer them to a commercial Power PC CPU board for Real Time Calculation. Mirrors Commands are sent to a High Voltage amplifier unit through an optical fiber link. The tip-tilt correction is done by a dedicated Tip-tilt mount holding the deformable mirror. The whole wavefront is located at the Coude focus. Software is developed in house and is ESO compatible. Expected performance is a Strehl ratio sligthly under 60% at 2.2 micron for bright reference sources (star V<10) and a limiting magnitude of 17.5 (Strehl ~0.1). The four systems will be installed in Paranal successively, the first one being planned for June 2003 and the last one for June 2004.