Newton STFC-NARIT: Adaptive Optics Programme for the Thai National Observatory

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Physics


The Earth's turbulent atmosphere blurs the images of astronomical objects. Adaptive Optics can be used to counteract the detrimental effects of the Earth's atmosphere and restore sharp images. It is only by developing advanced optical instrumentation, such as Adaptive Optics systems, that we can enable the next generation of astronomical discoveries. Here, we propose a collaborative project between Durham University, UK, and the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand. This proposal not only aims to strengthen links between Thai and UK instrumentation communities, but also through the joint development of an AO system testbench build a domestic advanced astronomical instrumentation capability within Thailand. This not only has benefits directly to astronomy, but will form the core of an instrumentation training faciilty that can be used to provide students and engineers with experience of developing and operating automated opto-mechanical instrumentation. AO system development provides experience within a huge range of fields, including optical metrology, machine-vision, computer automation and high-speed computing. Such skills are in high demand within many sectors of Thai economy where much of the advanced technical knowledge and instrumentation is currently licensed or purchased from overseas.

The proposed research includes using advanced techniques developed at some of the worlds premier observatories to fully characterise the Thai National Observatory (TNO) site. This part of the project will involve UK and Thai researchers working together with dedicated atmospheric characterisation instrumentation as well as analysing weather forecasts to develop dynamic models of the atmosphere above the observatory. Once the model has been validated with on-site measurements, archived weather forecast data will be used to make a statistical analysis of the site quality. Large datasets will need to be processed in an efficient manor by the collaboration, further training Thai researchers in data acquisition, handling and analysis.

The TNO site will then be evaluated to determine the most effective type of Adaptive Optics system based on expected atmoshperic conditions. This phase will involve configuring and running computer simulations of various instruments to see which will ultimately deliver the science that best aligns with the research interests of NARIT. We will finally jointly develop an instrument prototype which is capable of correcting for the Earth's turbulence. This prototype will be used to undertake experimentation regarding adaptive optics control techniques and will be designed such that it will also be compatible with the interface to the TNO 2.4m telescope for on-sky demonstration.

Planned Impact

The impact in terms of overseas development goals has been highlighted in the main proposal attachment.


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Butterley, T. (2021) TNT SLODAR results v1

Description Through observations made using the SLODAR instrument that was funded through this program, we have found that atmospheric turbulence at/near the telescope dome is very strong and significantly degrades the imaging performance of the Thai National Telescope. The source of this turbulence is either external to the dome and inherent to local atmospheric conditions at the site, caused by environmental effects within the dome (e.g. local heat sources), or some combination of both. Further stidues are planned to identify if the source of this turbulence is internal to the telescope dome and if it can be mitigated - if so, we could expect to see a reasonable increase in the imaging performance of the telescope, benfitting all science programmes on the TNT.

As part of the local training and outreach program we held a 1 week workshop in Chiang Mai, attended by 40+ participants from across Thailand and South East Asia. The goals of this workshop were to introduce students, researchers and engineers to the concepts and use of adaptive optics across a range of fields from astronomy to ophthalmology and it was attended by over 20 mainly early career researchers from a diverse range of backgrounds. Two of the attendees have since gone on to undertake PhD studies in astronomical instrumentation.
Exploitation Route Studies of dome/ground turbulence are of interest in the field of laser communications. Whilst the studies undertaken at the TNT through this program are not unique, the TNT is situated in a unique rainforest/mountainous site that can provide an useful comparison to e.g. turbulence forecast models that need to be able to predict atmospheric turbulence conditions anywhere on the globe that a ground-space laser communications link could be employed.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine

Description STFC ODA Instiutional award
Amount £25,000 (GBP)
Funding ID STFC Purchase Order number 4070200276 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2019
Description Durham-NARIT 
Organisation National Astronomical Research Institute Of Thailand
Country Thailand 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution To date, we have - designed a SLODAR turbulence profiling instrument for the TNT - purchased a high-speed camera for use in the SLODAR system - helped organise a workshop for academics, industry and students to introduce the technologies and - hosted two NARIT researchers for a month to learn about adaptive optics
Collaborator Contribution NARIT have: - completed the mechnical design of the SLODAR system - purchased all optical and mechanical components - allocated observing time on the telescope - paid for the local costs of the workshop
Impact Successful training of 2 NARIT staff in adaptive optics modelling and performance analyses 11 registered attendees and 5 early to mid- career UK researchers to be involved in workshop in Thailand at the end of March
Start Year 2018
Title SLODAR data reduction pipeline 
Description The data reduction pipeline for the SLODAR system for the Thai National Telescope 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Allowed the first on-sky data collection campaign to be undertaken that identified a measurements of a strong dome component to the observed atmospheric turbulence conditions at the site. 
Title SLODAR instrument at the Thai National Telescope 
Description The SLODAR (SLOpe Detection And Ranging) instrument installed at the 2.5m Thai National Telescope at Doi Inthanon was developed by Durham and NARIT scientists and engineers to characterise the turbulent atmosphere. It consists of a wide-field Shack-Hartmann sensor and fast CCD detector that allows the vertical structure and strength of optical turbulence above the telescope to be measured. 
Type Of Technology Detection Devices 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The SLODAR system is now in regular use by the TNO staff and preliminary results have identified a strong dome turbulence component to the overall turbulence observed by the telescope. Identifying and removing the sources of this turbulence will improve the quality of astronomical observations for all telescope users. The SLODAR system represents the first wavefront sensing device in use within astronomy in Thailand, and is a key means of training Thai researchers and engineers in the use of this increasingly important technology that is used within many industrial/automation and precision manufacturing fields. 
Title Thai SLODAR system design 
Description Optical design and performance analyses for the SLODAR turbulence profilign system including description of all design processes required to design AO-compatible wavefront sensors for the future TNO-developed AO system 
Type Of Technology Systems, Materials & Instrumental Engineering 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact NARIT researchers have used this information to design the mechanical system for their first wide-field wavefront sensing system 
Description Adaptive Optics workshop: From the Eye to the Sky 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We held a four day workshop in Chiang Mai in March 2019 that provided an overview of adaptive optics technology and how it can be applied to various fields including astronomy, ophthalmologists, optical metrology and precision machining. The workshop was run by primarily early career researchers from Durham and Oxford, and attracted 35 attendees from universities (UG, PG and academic), hospitals, defence, and SE Asian companies involved in wavefront sensing and optical metrology. Feedback from audience attendees was that the broad introduction was very useful in highlighting opportunities across the field, however a more hands-on workshop would be useful, and the next workshop (now delayed until August 2020 due to CoViD-19) will be focused on transferring AO simulation skills.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Observatory visit (THailand) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Initial visit to the Thai National Observatory to discuss how we will achieve the projects aims and goals. Attending several meetings, discussed instrument design and performance with local staff.

Also gave a 1 hour presentation discussing collaboration and developing closer links to ~15 professional practitioners including representative from EU SME - Astelco
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Public talk at Sunderland astronomical society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Tim Butterely gave a presentation at teh Sunderland Astronomical Society titled "Seeing through telescopes large and small"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019