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Revolutionising astronomy through Australian-led project

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The design phase of a multimillion-dollar project for a new system on one of the world’s most powerful ground-based optical telescopes will be led by Australian scientists.

The project will produce images up to three times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope, according to the recent report.

Two partners in the Australian Astronomical Optics (AAO) consortium will design the new A$ 32-million adaptive-optics system, called MAVIS, for one of the 8-metre Unit Telescopes at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope in Chile.

They are the Australian National University (ANU, AAO-Stromlo) and Macquarie University (AAO-MQ).

The upgraded telescope would revolutionise ground-based optical astronomy according to the Adaptive Optics Principal Scientist at ANU, who is leading the international consortium.

Moreover, it will provide a wider, sharper and more sensitive view of the Universe than ever before.

Performance of ground-based telescopes is hindered by atmospheric turbulence, which causes a phenomenon similar to objects appearing blurry on the horizon during a hot day.

MAVIS will remove this blurring and deliver images essentially as crisp as if the telescope were in space, helping them peer back into the Universe in its infancy.

The 15-month design study will commence in February 2019 while the upgraded telescope is expected to be completed by 2025.

The study will also involve the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics and the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille in France, with ONERA (France) as an associated partner.

The interim Director at Macquarie University said the design study will investigate different options for obtaining spectroscopic information from different sources simultaneously across the field, in addition to direct imaging.

Australia has led the world in this area, for instance developing various technologies for accurately positioning hundreds of optical fibres to collect light from the desired astronomical sources.

This ambitious instrument would enable a huge range of new science and discoveries that would otherwise not be possible.

A major investment in astronomy has been made by the Australian government through a strategic partnership with ESO.

This will allow Australian astronomers with guaranteed access to the premier observatory.

The success of the MAVIS bid shows the ability of the AAO consortium to bring advanced technology instrumentation contracts back to Australia.

The successful completion of the MAVIS project would bring about a major reward of having guaranteed nights of observation for the Australian astronomy community and project partners.

They will be given 150 nights on the Very Large Telescope with MAVIS, which is equivalent in value to about A$ 20 million.

Moreover, ESO will add a contribution of A$ 12 million for the hardware, bringing the total value of the MAVIS adaptive-optics instrument to about A$ 32 million.

Three parts make up an adaptive-optics system: a deformable mirror, which corrects the deformed light wave going through the atmosphere; a wavefront sensor, which senses the distortion of the light wave; and a real-time computer, which calculates the corrections.

MAVIS will have three deformable mirrors, eight wavefront sensors and five laser guide stars.

Plus, it will be using a technique called Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics to deliver its sharp images over a field of view 20 times larger than regular adaptive-optics systems.

The novelty of MAVIS is that it will deliver its corrected images in the optical range, combined with the extended field of view, which makes it a world first.

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