A research group in NUI Galway has won a €1 million contract from the European Space Agency to create a way of correcting visual errors in space telescopes in orbit.
The objective of this group is to take the shimmer caused by the haze out of the picture taken by the telescope and correcting it to eliminate the distortion. It is hoped that this will allow them to photograph the edge of the universe.
Dr Nicholas Devaney from the applied optics research group in NUIG’s School of Physics is the principle investigator on the project and explained to The Irish Times what it is that he and the team have to correct.
“The basic idea is to measure visual aberrations in real time and correct them by adjusting something in the optics”, he said.
The challenge being undertaken can be simplified to thinking of the “heat haze” you can see above road surfaces on a warm sunny day. The heat causes the object to shimmer and flicker through the haze and that makes it difficult to see any fine detail of the object.
Devaney and his research colleague Dr Alexander Goncharov will hire a post-doctoral fellowship and PhD students to help work on the project. They will also subcontract some aspects of the “active optics” system to the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics in Germany.
Active optics is common in technology on the ground but this will be the first time it is used in space.
Devaney said that the word active has a very specific meaning in this project.
“This is similar to the way in which our eyes are capable of focusing on both distant objects and objects close to us by adjusting the shape of the lenses in our eyes”, he said.