Wave-front sensing for adaptive optics in astronomy
Thesis DisciplineElectrical Engineering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Optical images of astronomical objects viewed through ground-based telescopes are blurred by the atmosphere. The atmosphere is turbulent and as a consequence the density of air is not evenly distributed. This results in random, time-varying variations in refractive index. The wave-fronts passing through the atmosphere become aberrated, degrading the quality of the images. One solution is to include an adaptive optics system in the telescope. The system estimates the aberration of the wave-fronts and compensates the wave-front in real time using a corrector element, typically a deformable mirror. An important problem is how to estimate the aberrations optimally using only a small amount of light. This procedure is called wave-front sensing and is the subject of the research of this thesis. For turbulence with Kolmogorov statistics, the wave-front slope contains 87% of the energy of the aberrations. Hence, it is crucial to estimate the slope accurately. The displacement of an image is directly proportional to the wave-front slope and is used to estimate the slope. The conventional way of measuring the average slope of the wave-front in a Shack-Hartmann sensor is from the centroid of the image at the focal plane. It is demonstrated that using the centroid estimator produces an estimate with infinite variance. The Cramer-Rao lower bound (CRLB) is a theoretical lower bound for the variance of an unbiased estimator. The variance of the maximum-likelihood (ML) estimate for the displacement of a diffraction-limited image approaches the CRLB using a relatively small number of photons. The ML estimator is extended to the case where the image is randomly blurred by atmospheric turbulence. It is found that the variance of the error of the slope estimator can be improved significantly at low turbulence levels by using the ML estimator instead of the centroid. Curvature sensors use two defocused images to estimate the wave-front aberrations. It is shown using the CRLB that the focal plane is the optimal plane to measure the slope and the error using defocused images is quantified. The effect of using broadband light on the accuracy of the slope estimate is also investigated. When using laser guide stars, it is not possible to estimate the slope of the wave-front directly from the image because the beam is displaced on both the upward and downward journey. However, the displacement is a weak function of wavelength due to dispersion. In theory, the difference in wave-front slope as a function of wavelength is proportional to the absolute slope. Centering algorithms were implemented on experimental data taken at the Observatoire de Lyon to confirm this relationship. There is strong evidence pointing to a linear relationship between two pairs of differential tilt measurements, but not between the differential and the absolute tilt. However, the data appears to have been affected by a systematic experimental error and a new experiment is needed. Phase retrieval is a non-linear technique used to recover the phase in the Fourier domain using intensity measurements at the image plane and additional constraints. A method is described to solve the phase retrieval problem using linear iterations near the solution, which provides both analytical insight into phase retrieval and numerical results. The algorithm finds the maximum a posteriori estimate of the phase using prior information about the statistics of the noise and the phase and converges well in practice. When phase retrieval is performed on data from subdivided apertures, there is a loss of information regarding the relative piston terms of the subapertures and this error is quantified. It is found that there is a smaller wavefront error when estimating the phase from a full aperture than from a subdivided aperture. Using a combination of intensity measurements from a full and a subdivided aperture is shown to result in a small improvement at very high photon levels only. Curvature sensors measure the wave-front aberrations via a linear relationship between the curvature of the wave-front and the intensity difference between two defocused images. In practice, their performance is limited by their non-linear behaviour, which is characterised by solving simultaneously the irradiance transport equation and the accompanying wave-front transport equation. It is shown how the presence of non-linear geometric terms limits the accuracy of the sensor and how diffraction effects limit the spatial resolution. The effect of photon noise on the sensor is also quantified. A novel technique for deriving wave-front aberrations from two defocused intensity measurements is derived. The intensity defines a probability density function and the method is based on the evolution of the cumulative density function of the intensity. In one dimension, the problem is easily solved using histogram specification with a linear relationship between the wave-front slope and the difference in the abscissas of the histograms. This method is insensitive to scintillation. In two dimensions, the procedure requires the use of the Radon transform. Simulation results demonstrate that very good reconstructions can be attained down to 100 photons in each detector.