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Adaptive optics (AO) is a technology used to improve the performance of optical systems by reducing the effect of wavefront distortions. It is used in astronomical telescopes and laser communication systems to remove the effects of atmospheric distortion, in microscopy, optical fabrication and in retinal imaging systems to reduce optical aberrations. Adaptive optics works by measuring the distortions in a wavefront and compensating for them with a device that corrects those errors such as a deformable mirror or a liquid crystal array. AO was first envisioned by Horace W. Babcock in 1953, and was also considered in Science Fiction, as in Poul Anderson's novel Tau Zero (1970), but it did not come into common usage until advances in computer technology during the 1990s made the technique practical.
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A system of fast reacting electronic supports which deform the mirror inside a telescope to compensate for the way in which the Earth's atmosphere distorts our view of celestial objects. In effect in detects the twinkling of stars and moves the telescope's mirror to cancel this out. This process stops the image from blurring and allows more detail to be seen. See also active optics.
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