Van Gogh’s The Starry Night is a stunning painting that artistically brings out the effect of turbulence in our atmosphere on stargazing.

And this turbulence of air in addition to the effect of increasing refractive index causes the twinkling of stars:

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     Source: Enhanced Learning

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But if you are an astronomer trying to study the cosmos from the earth, this turbulence of air and twinkling of stars is a nightmare.

The last thing that you want the light that painstakingly took millions of years to get to the earth is be wiggled away from your telescope through refraction and turbulence.

Adaptive Optics

Have you ever seen time lapses like these of the Keck observatory with laser beams coming out of it ?

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Those lasers serve a purpose: to account for the atmosphere disturbances in the night sky in real time and correct the images that they observe dynamically.

This is known as Adaptive optics. This video by the RoyalObs explains the essence of Adaptive optics really well. Do watch it

With and Without Adaptive Optics

Prof. Andrea Ghez and her research team at UCLA whose research on what is at the center of our galaxy that was featured in our previous post has contributed a lot in using Adaptive optics for astronomical observations.

And using this technique, the following is the difference between capturing an image with and without adaptive optics.

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And it is with the aid of adaptive optics that the group was able to track the trajectories of the galaxies surrounding the proposed center of our galaxy to conclude that there is most likely a Super Massive Black Hole at the center of it.

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      Trajectories of stars surrounding the proposed center of our galaxy.

So, the next time you go out to gaze at the cosmos, just remember that whatever you are seeing in the night sky right now is through the looking glass of our beloved atmosphere.

And astronomers put in immense effort to nullify the dynamic atmospheric effects that it loves to entertain us with.

Have a great day!


All images/animations featured in this post were created by Prof. Andrea Ghez and her
research team at UCLA and are from data sets obtained with the W. M.
Keck Telescopes

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