LAWRENCE LIVERMORE NATIONAL LABORATORY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY LAWRENCE LIVERMORE NATIONAL LABORATORY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Laser guide star project. View of a laser beam being sent into the night sky to produce an artificial guide 'star'. The laser excites sodium ions in a layer about 100 km above the Earth. The ions fluoresce, producing a rectangular patch of light about 3 metres across. Astronomers align this to appear close to the object they wish to observe (such as a galaxy). They use a telescope with a flexible mirror which can be adjusted to correct for atmospheric distortions and produce a sharp image of the guide 'star'. The correction also applies to the celestial object and so allows higher resolution ground-based images to be made.
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