Adaptive Optics Programme for the Thai National Observatory

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Physics

Abstract

The Earth's turbulent atmosphere blurs the images of astronomical objects. Adaptive Optics (AO) 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 AO 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 the AO and turbulence profiling instrumentation, build a domestic advanced astronomical instrumentation capability within Thailand.

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 companies overseas.

The proposed research includes using advanced techniques developed at some of the world's premier observatories to fully characterise the atmospheric turbulence at Thai National Observatory (TNO) site. This part of the project will involve UK and Thai researchers working together on the development of new atmospheric characterisation instrumentation that will be deployed at the telescope site in northern Thailand. Large datasets will need to be captured and processed in an efficient manor by the collaboration, further training Thai researchers at NARIT in AO data acquisition, handling and analysis.

To assist with the training of researchers in the use and development of AO systems, we will also run a workshop in Thailand that focuses on the use of computer modelling of AO systems. AO system simulations are complex to understand, run and modify and we will provide hands-on training in how to set up and analyse the outputs from such simulations.

The training of staff and researchers within Thailand in the techniques and technologies used within AO is funded as part of the overseas development aid budget, with the goal of increasing skills in advanced optical technologies that can support new industrial applications within the developing Thai economy. This project also provides Thailand with an experienced AO system users and developers through the instrumentation programme run jointly with NARIT at the Thai National Observatory. Finally, this program allows UK and Thai researchers to undertake fundamental research into the properties of atmospheric turbulence and the development of novel instrumentation that can potentially be applied to other telescopes and fields outside astronomy.

Planned Impact

The first pathway that will be explored is through the additional development of the Python-based worksheets for the AO workshop. After the workshop we will update the worksheets based on feedback from both attendees and lecturers, then will release these worksheets online as a teaching and outreach resource. The use of AO and AO-related technologies is increasing within many scientific and industrial fields, but existing online tutorials are often decades old and focused on astronomical applications. Through the release of these worksheets we will provide a modern, comprehensive online resource that would also provide a means of learning about this increasingly important technology. We propose two means to assess and track the impact of this resource:
- Upon download of the worksheets, we plan to request data (complying with relevant GDPR regulations) that will allow us to identify at a minimum, the field that the person works within (academic, industrial, etc.). This will allow us to track the use of these worksheets in fields outside astronomy, with the potential to contact users for additional information that may for example, support an economic impact case study for an industrial user.
- The worksheets are built upon the open-source aotools Python package, developed by Durham. It is our hope that people who move beyond the basic examples provided by the worksheets will start to first use and eventually contribute code to the project. The aotools package already has a small worldwide community of developers and the collaborative software development tools provide a means of tracking both user and developer activity, as well as noting the projects (both academic and industrial) it is being used within. Impact can then be assessed basically by looking at the spread of the code, and in more detail by contacting specific developers/users.

The implementation of this data collection method for the worksheets will be implemented using some of the staff effort requested for worksheet development. Usage metrics for the aotools package are already implemented.
The key ODA goal of providing an economic benefit to Thailand provides the second route to generate impact from this research proposal. A goal of the workshop is not only to train scientists and engineers in the how AO systems work, but also provide a means for both non-academic bodies within Thailand to investigate and eventually utilise some of the technologies that are commonly used within AO systems within their own R&D programs. To support this, we will be offering direct assistance with the simulation setup and data analysis to attendees of the workshop. This will take the form of providing each attendee with a named primary contact who will be on call to support their research remotely, as well as providing remote access to Durham's simulation machines. Initially support will be provided by the Durham staff attending the workshop, although we hope these may lead to further collaborations in the future. This close link will allow us to monitor who is working on AO developments within Thailand and ultimately, if these developments have given rise to any economic benefits within Thailand.

Publications

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Butterley, T. (2021) TNT SLODAR results v1

 
Title Thai National Telescope turbulence profiles 
Description >26 nights of turbulence profile data taken on the Thai National Telescope using the slope detection and ranging (SLODAR) technique. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact NARIT have started a dome turbulence study based on these results to improve optical performance of the telescope for astronomical observations. 
 
Title Updated SLODAR data reduction pipeline 
Description Update of the data reduction pipeline for analysis of data from the SLODAR instrument installed on the Thai National Telescope. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact This update allowed staff at the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand to fully analyse the data from the SLODAR instrument themselves and obtain turbulence statistics for the observatory site.