The imaging performance of large ground-based astronomical telescopes is compromised by dynamic wavefront aberration caused by atmospheric turbulence. Techniques to measure and correct the aberration in real time, collectively called adaptive optics (AO), have been developed over the past half century, but it is only within the past decade that the delivery of diffraction-limited image quality at near- and mid-infrared wavelengths at many of the world’s biggest telescopes has become routine. Exploitation of this new capability has led to a number of ground-breaking astronomical results, which has in turn spurred the continued development of AO to address ever more technical challenges that limit its scientific applicability. I review the present state of the art, highlight a number of noteworthy scientific results, and outline several ongoing experiments designed to broaden the scope of observations that can be undertaken with AO. In particular, I explore the significant advances required in AO technology to satisfy the needs for a new generation of extremely large telescopes of diameter and larger that are now being designed.
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