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The mesosphere, at heights between 85 and 100 kilometers above the Earth's surface, contains a layer of atomic sodium. Astronomers use laser beams to create artificial stars, or laser guide stars (LGS), in this layer for improving the quality of astronomical observations. In 2011, researchers proposed that artificial guide stars could also be used to measure the Earth's magnetic field in the mesosphere. An international group of scientists has recently managed to do this with a high degree of precision. The technique may also help to identify magnetic structures in the solid Earth's lithosphere, to monitor space weather, and to measure electrical currents in the part of the atmosphere called ionosphere.
Astronomers have been using lasers to generate artificial stars for the past 20 years. A laser beam is directed from the ground into the atmosphere. In the sodium layer, it strikes sodium atoms, which absorb the energy of the laser and then start to glow. "The atoms emit light in all directions. Such artificial stars are barely visible to the naked eye but can be observed with telescopes," explained Felipe Pedreros Bustos of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). In connection with the work on his doctoral thesis, the Chilean-born physicist has spent four years working on the project, which besides JGU involves the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the University of California, Berkeley and Rochester Scientific in the USA, the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF-OAR), and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
Guide - Stars - Astronomers - Distortions - Light
The artificial guide stars help astronomers to correct the distortions of light that travels through the atmosphere. The light from the artificial guide star is collected on the ground by telescopes, and the information is used to adjust in real time state-of-the-art deformable mirrors, compensating the distortions and allowing astronomical objects to be imaged sharply, down to...
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