The use of adaptive optics to correct the effects of seeing is rapidly becoming a standard technique in astronomical observing and is fundamental to current plans for extremely large telescopes. Adaptive optics has proved effective for studies of small solar system objects that can be used as their own reference sources. However, it is much harder to apply adaptive optics techniques to bright planets such as Mars and Venus, because of the difficulty of finding a suitable reference star that is not drowned out by the intense scattered light from the planet itself. A possible solution to the problem might be provided by current plans for laser communications systems. For example, the Mars Telecommunications Orbiter, planned for launch in 2009, will carry a 5 W laser to beam data back to Earth. This laser system in orbit around Mars will provide a very bright guide star, with a magnitude ranging from 1.8 to 5.8. Such a guide star is more than bright enough for existing adaptive optics systems and is in the range needed to support "extreme AO" systems, producing very high Strehl ratios. Used in conjunction with large ground-based telescopes, this could allow studies of Mars with spatial resolutions down to a few kilometers and allow the ground-based study of Mars to extend around much of its orbit, rather than be limited to the time around opposition.
|Number of pages||5|
|Journal||Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific|
|Publication status||Published - Aug 2004|