The eruption last April of the Eyjafjallajökul volcano in Iceland delivered a blunt reminder that, despite many advanced sensing technologies, our ability to monitor and analyze atmospheric events over large areas can be limited. Satellite and lidar aided in mapping the volcanic ash cloud as it moved across Europe, but real-time identification and precise 3D mapping of the zones of highest concentration was challenging. In Switzerland, the MeteoSwiss Aerological Station in Payerne, originally designed for humidity measurement, was repurposed to map the ash cloud over that country, and the pan-European lidar network, Earlynet (www.earlynet.org), also provided useful data, though Earlynet is more of a research infrastructure than an operational network. Perhaps the consequences of the eruption will add momentum to efforts aimed at expanding and updating atmospheric sensing networks, especially since advances in lasers have reduced system costs by an order of magnitude over the past few decades.
Meanwhile, developments in lasers and optics technologies are also advancing another type of remote sensing. A new generation of high-power sodium-guidestar lasers combined with advanced high-order adaptive optics systems is able to virtually eliminate effects of atmospheric disturbance, enabling the latest ground-based optical telescopes to resolve as well as if they were operating in space. These telescopes are poised "to transform our understanding of the cosmos and our place in it," according to Douglas Simons, director of Gemini Observatory (www.gemini.edu), who was speaking at last month's CLEO Plenary session in San Jose, CA (www.cleoconference.org). The latest guidestar lasers, like the one shown on our cover, provide performance improvements that include higher output power from a more rugged package.
Also at the CLEO Plenary session, we were pleased to honor winners of the CLEO/Laser Focus World Innovation Awards. You can watch video featuring the winning products online at www.laserfocusworld.com.