Archived News: 2013-2014

December 18th, 2014 Robo-AO was used to confirm the first discovered Kepler K2 exoplanet candidate by using high-resolution imaging of its host star to answer whether there are any very nearby stellar companions which may be contaminating the light curve measurements. Read more in the IfA press release and the journal paper led by CfA graduate student Andrew Vanderburg.

November 13th, 2014 The Robo-AO team has been selected for funding by NASA's Exoplanets Research Program (XRP) to complete the high-angular-resolution survey of Kepler exoplanet host stars.

November 5th, 2014: Robo-AO is featured in a Boston University College of Engineering video, at 0:45, describing the deformable mirrors developed by BU, as well as many of their applications. In addition to adaptive optics technology, the Robo-AO team is collaborating with BU astronomers on several exoplanet focused science programs.

This is a segment of a larger film representing research inspired by Boston University College of Engineering faculty and their respective research teams. Copyright 2014, Transforming Society, Body Echo LLC. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

October 1st, 2014: During our last observing run, we took a few images of Uranus as it was reported recently that massive storms were observed on its surface. Upon inspection of the reduced data, we could in fact see some of the storm activity, in addition to four of the Uranian moons, as seen below.

Observation of Uranus by Robo-AO.

September 2nd, 2014: This is the last night of our last observing run for the summer of 2014. We finished observing all but a handful of the Kepler candidate exoplanet host stars and demonstrated for the first time the operation of an extremely low-noise infrared detector for infrared tip-tilt sensing and correction (which will eventually be used in larger telescope instruments and adaptive optics systems).

Christoph and Reed with the Robo-AO laser propagating from the P60 telescope dome.

August 14th, 2014: "Astronomical instrumentation: Atmospheric blurring has a new enemy," by Brent Ellerbroek (TMT), describing Robo-AO's first large survey, appears in the current Nature News and Views.

August 4th, 2014: A press release titled, "Laser-wielding Robot Probes Exoplanet Systems," has just been posted which highlights two recent Robo-AO papers: one on the Robo-AO instrument and the first of our large survey papers, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters (preprint) and the Astrophysical Journal (preprint) respectively.

July 15th, 2014: We're in the middle of our second of three summer observing runs with Robo-AO at Palomar. We're continuing to commission and integrate the infrared tip-tilt sensor with the Robo-AO software.

The July 2014 observing team: Dani, Christoph and Reed (in front of Robo-AO with attached infrared tip-tilt sensor).

June 27th, 2014: Robo-AO is at the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation in Montreal, Canada with 5 talks and 1 poster that used Robo-AO data or technology:

N. LawTwelve-thousand laser-AO observations: first results from the Robo-AO large surveys
C. BaranecSecond generation Robo-AO instruments and systems
R. RiddleThe Robo-AO automated intelligent queue system
D. AtkinsonObservatory Deployment and Characterization of SAPHIRA HgCdTe APD Arrays
C. BaranecPULSE: The Palomar Ultraviolet Laser for the Study of Exoplanets
S. SeversonKAPAO First Light: the design, construction and operation of a low-cost natural guide star adaptive optics system

June 13th, 2014: We're in the middle of our first of three summer observing runs with Robo-AO at Palomar. In addition to supporting science operations, we'll be starting to integrate the new low-noise infrared tip-tilt sensor we brought with us from Hawai`i.

The June 2014 observing team: Shane, Dani, Reed, Gina and Christoph.

May 1st, 2014: This summer, the Robo-AO project will be partnering with Disk Detective, a Zooniverse citizen science project to find dusty debris disks, the birthplace of planets, around stars. Robo-AO will be used to capture high-resolution images of stars with excess infrared light as identified by NASA's WISE mission. The Robo-AO observations will be critical in determining whether the excess light is caused by nearby background objects or actual debris disks.

March 3rd, 2014: Reed Riddle presented a talk on Robo-AO at the Optical Society of Southern California meeting on March 12th.

February 18th, 2014: Robo-AO's PI, Christoph Baranec, has been selected as a 2014 Sloan Research Fellow, based on the successful results from the prototype Robo-AO and plans for installing a facility version of Robo-AO on the University of Hawaii 2.2-m telescope.

February 14th, 2014: Christoph's Caltech Astronomy Colloquium, Scientific highlights from the Palomar Robo-AO system and plans for a Mauna Kea Robo-AO, is now online:

February 7th, 2014: High school senior Ganesh Ravichandran has been named a semifinalist in the 2014 Intel Science Talent Search Competition for his astronomy project, titled "Close Companions to Kepler Objects of Interest: Results from a Large Adaptive Optics Survey," which used data from our Robo-AO Kepler Planetary Candidate Survey. Click to read more.

January 7th, 2014: Robo-AO is at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington DC with 2 talks and 5 posters that used Robo-AO data or technology:

T. MortonVALFAST: Secure Probabilistic Validation of Hundreds of Kepler Planet Candidates
B. MontetLHS 6343: Precise Constraints on the Mass and Radius of a Transiting Brown Dwarf Discovered by Kepler
R. ThorpStudy of the Impact of Stellar Multiplicity on Planet Occurrence and Properties (Poster)
J. LongPerformance Characterization of KAPAO, a Low-Cost Natural Guide Star Adaptive Optics Instrument
M. BottomPULSE: the Palomar Ultraviolet Laser for the Study of Exoplanets
S. PonteDetection of an Extrasolar Planet Candidate in Habitable Zone of a Low-Mass Binary
J. CurtisRotation and activity at 3 Gyr with Ruprecht 147

December 17th, 2013: We have submitted for publication the results of the first season of the Robo-AO Kepler Planetary Candidate Survey. This study represents the largest single adaptive optics survey to date and is just the beginning of our goal to observe every Kepler planet candidate host star to search for blended nearby stars, which may be physically associated companions and/or responsible for transit false positives.

The 53 Kepler planet candidates resolved into multiple stars by Robo-AO, 43 of which are new discoveries.

November 8th, 2013: Robo-AO had a strong presence at the Kepler Science Conference II held at NASA Ames, with 1 talk and 6 posters that used Robo-AO data or technology:

C. BaranecVisible-light laser-adaptive-optics imaging of thousands of exoplanet hosts with Robo-AO
N. LawRobotic Kepler follow-up: LGS-AO imaging of every KOI star
J. JohnsonHot on the Trail of Warm Planets Orbiting Cool Stars
P. MuirheadCharacterizing the Cool KOIs
A. TannerKepler Astrometry: An Attempt
B. MontetLHS 6343: Precise Constraints on the Mass and Radius of a Transiting Brown Dwarf Discovered by Kepler
C. BaranecPULSE: Palomar Ultraviolet Laser for the Study of Exoplanets

October 25th, 2013: We completed another 5-night observing run covering 800 additional observations including an intensive nightly campaign to monitor Comet ISON. The Robo-AO team also welcomes its newest graduate student, Gina Duggan, who will bring the Robo-AO infrared camera online next year and lead initial science observations.

Summer 2013: This summer sees a diaspora in Robo-AO leadership: Principal Investigator Christoph Baranec and Project Scientist Nicholas Law started faculty positons at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill repectively. Both will continue working with the Robo-AO system and data. In the meantime, Reed Riddle will take over Robo-AO operations at Palomar Observatory.


August 21st, 2013: This marks the end of the Robo-AO summer observing season with the automated odometer well past 9000 observations! This weekend, Christoph (and Nick via remote) will be following up many of the Robo-AO discoveries from this past run with the Keck laser adaptive optics system for further infrared characterization and Robo-AO will be lending its main science camera to CHIMERA next week. We also have a new time-lapse video of the laser captured from a camera bolted to the Robo-AO electronics rack: it shows the laser and sky from the telescope's point of view.

The Robo-AO, TripleSpec and CHIMERA observing teams in front of the Palomar 200" telescope: Dani, Leon, Christoph, Reed, Alex, Juliette and Phil.

August 16th, 2013: During the middle of our August observing run, Jerome Ballesta (Imagine Optic) assisted summer student Mee on using a HASO wavefront sensor to calibrate the non-common path errors between the laser wavefront sensor and science camera. After implementing the calibration the peak intensity of the final images on the visible have increased by 10% to 60%, depending on seeing conditions, and appear more symmetric in shape.

Jerome and Mee using the HASO wavefront sensor to calibrate residual optical errors in the adaptive optics system.

July 24th, 2013: The Robo-AO team is in the middle of our first 10-night observing run. Although we lost several nights due to ash and humidity, the remaining nights are shaping up to be good. We've also just switched over to using Kristina's automated target selection system which will increase our observing efficiency over the course of each night.

The July 2013 Robo-AO team: Christoph, Mee, Shriharsh, Jean-Michel, Reed, Rachel and Kristina.

June 19th, 2013: The Robo-AO team welcomes its newest student members: Chatarin "Mee" Wong-u-railertkun (Caltech) and Rachel Thorp (Caltech). Mee will be developing several methods to improve the non-common path calibration of the adaptive optics system and Rachel will be working with Jean-Michel Désert on using Robo-AO to study the impact of stellar multiplicity on the properties and occurrence rates of planets.

May 19th, 2013: Robo-AO PI, Christoph Baranec, presented results of the Robo-AO/Kepler KOI imaging campaign at the first TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) science meeting at MIT. Robo-AO will be crucial to validating planetary candidates identified by the TESS mission which may be more numerous by an order of magnitude than those identified by Kepler.

April 20th, 2013: Shortly before sunset on our sixth night of observing, Prof. Choi and Dr. Vetere's students from Pomona College were given a crash course on Robo-AO. Christoph explained the inner workings of the instrument, Reed presented an overview of the robotic software and Michał discussed the scientific goals of the cometary observations we'd be doing later in the night. Once the night began, the hard work was left to the robot.

The Robo-AO observing team hosts students from Pomona College.

April 4th, 2013: Robo-AO has been used to verify the absence of close visible companions to Kepler Object of Interest-256, an eclipsing M-dwarf/white-dwarf system, seen in the video below, that shows evidence of gravitational lensing. The results of the study, led by Phil Muirhead, appear in a NASA press release and in the Astrophysical Journal.

This artist's animation depicts KOI-256, an ultra-dense dead star, called a white dwarf, passing in front of a small red star. As the white dwarf crosses in front, its gravity is so great that it bends and magnifies the light of the red star. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

March 18th, 2013: We've recently submitted four US patent applications for technologies developed during the course of the Robo-AO project.

February 12th, 2013: Our video paper on Robo-AO has just been published online. It is also highlighted in the Journal of Visualized Experiments' "February 2013: This Month in JoVE."

February 1st, 2013: Want to know how Robo-AO operates so efficiently and how future astronomical instruments will be automated? Check out Robo-AO software lead Reed Riddle's presentation, "Building a Better Robot: Designing Automated Control Systems for Astronomical Instruments," at the next Cahill astronomy tea talk on Monday, February 4th.

January 21st, 2013: We're just finishing up the last of our 2012B Robo-AO time. It's been a very productive semester with well over 5,000 objects observed to date. We will be back again in April to support six different science programs for the 2013A observing semester.

The January 2013 observing team: Christoph, Michał, Reed. Not pictured: Nick, Shriharsh and Leon.

January 7th, 2013: Robo-AO will be at the 221st American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach this week. Check out our meeting flyer for a listing of the nine talks and posters to be presented which feature Robo-AO science and technology.