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Enabling high resolution visible adaptive optics with ORCAS at the W.M. Keck Observatory

Presentation #116.01 in the session Making the Future Brighter for Astronomy.

Published onJul 01, 2023
Enabling high resolution visible adaptive optics with ORCAS at the W.M. Keck Observatory

W. M. Keck Observatory’s (WMKO) 2035 Strategic Plan identifies both high angular resolution science at visible wavelengths and high-contrast science as key priorities in its 2035 Strategic Plan. These priorities are products of over two decades of successful adaptive optics (AO) enabled science at Keck and are direct responses to community workshops led by the Keck AO Future Study Group. Both priorities are very well aligned with the Astro2020 decadal report. Given the 10-meter aperture of the Keck telescopes, a visible AO system can achieve extremely high spatial resolutions. In collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) the observatory installed a visible camera (ORKID) in 2022 that works behind AO as part of the Orbiting Configurable Artificial Stars (ORCAS) project. ORCAS is a first-of-its-kind hybrid space and ground observatory, using a satellite-based laser as the AO beacon for wavefront sensing. The ORKID camera is currently used in lucky imaging mode, while the AO system locks on a natural guide star. The intent is to use the camera for long integrations after upgrading the AO system with a higher order deformable mirror and to use the satellite-based laser as the AO beacon. With this camera the 44 mas separation binary Theta Orionis C was imaged with a full-width at half-maximum of 15 mas; the sharpest image ever measured at Keck, demonstrating the potential offered by visible AO. We present our current and planned AO development efforts and how ORCAS would make these AO systems uniquely powerful for both visible wavelength and high contrast science.

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