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 58 nights of science observing at the Palomar Observatory 60-inch telescope (with over 6,400 robotic observations executed) and will be observing another 10 nights in the first half of 2013. The system will be augmented in late 2013 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.
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 devolping 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 occurance 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 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.