Sodium Guide Star (R)Evolution

The most powerful laser guide star system in the world saw first light at the Paranal Observatory on April 26, 2016 (Source: ESO)

After several decades of dedicated laser development for astronomical adaptive optics, the new SodiumStar from Toptica Photonics for the first time combines high output power with an optimized laser format, maximizing the coupling of the laser light to the sodium atoms prevalent in a 10-km layer within the Earth’s mesosphere. The re-emission of the absorbed light creates an artificial star. Its light can be detected on the ground and used to measure and correct atmospheric distortions, making astronomical imaging faster and more reliable than ever before. The next generation optical telescopes with 30-m diameter primary mirrors will critically depend on this laser technology.

The laser system combines tunable diode laser technology with a high-power single-frequency Raman fiber amplifier and resonant second-harmonic generation, as described in a new article in Optik & Photonik. It delivers 22 W of tunable single-frequency output at 589 nm in an unprecedentedly reliable and ruggedized system for routine operation at medium- and large-sized ground-based optical observatories.

Apart from basic astronomical research, new perspectives open up for space-debris tracking and de-orbiting, optical satellite communication, and laser-based propulsion for intergalactic space flight. Even atomic physics and spectroscopy profit from this new platform for high-power single-frequency lasers.

The effort of the collaboration between the European Southern Observatory (ESO), Toptica Photonics, and MPB Communications has been recognized recently with the third prize of the Berthold Leibinger Innovation Award. (Source: Toptica)

Reference: M. Enderlein, W. G. Kaenders (representing the teams of the European Southern Observatory ESO, Toptica Photonics AG and MPB Communications Inc.): Sodium Guide Star (R)Evolution: A novel sodium guide star laser enables next-generation adaptive optics for ground-based astronomy, Optik Photonik 11(5), p 31–35 (December 2016); DOI: 10.1002/opph.201600038

Links: TOPTICA Photonics AG, Graefelfing, GermanyLaser Guide Stars Facility 4LGF, Very Large Telescope UT4, Paranal Observatory, European Southern Observator, Garching, Germany

Further reading: Four Innovations and One Future Prize, photonicsviews.com, 12th September 2016 

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