Gemini Observatory Press Releases

Adaptive Optics: Straightening Out Bent Starlight

Wavefront Optics

For more information, see the Adaptive Optics background page.

Unenhanced Image

Medium-res JPEG (60KB)

This image depicts perfectly even and smooth waves, as they would form if someone tossed a stone into a serenely still pond on a calm day. Light, like water, travels in waves, and starlight traveling undisturbed through the universe resembles the perfectly smooth and even waves shown above.

Enhanced Image

Medium-res JPEG (68KB)

Depicted is the effect of a breeze blowing, a form of turbulence, that interferes with the uniform wave pattern creating uneven ripples.

Wide angle Image

Medium-res JPEG (50KB)

When uniform waves of starlight reach Earth's atmosphere, pockets of hot and cold air that produce turbulence, cause the wavefronts of starlight to bend due to the fact that light travels slightly faster in less dense warmer air.

Close-up Image

Medium-res JPEG (55KB)

A close-up view of starlight bending and rippling once it reaches and passes through the Earth's atmosphere.