Modern astronomy began with the invention of the telescope by Hans Lippershey in 1608 and its prompt appropriation by Galileo. From small beginnings, the largest optical telescopes today have mirror diameters in excess of 10 meters. By the end of this decade, one or more of a new generation of extremely large telescopes (ELTs) will begin to scan the heavens. But the ability to focus light is only part of the problem. Once concentrated, the light must be refocused into a modern telescope’s complex instruments, where it is dissected and analyzed.

Photonics has been described as “molding the flow of light.” An early demonstration of what we now understand as photonics dates back to 1841, when Jean-Daniel Colladon in Geneva showed how a thin parabolic jet of water falling under gravity guides light along its length. But the use of photonics in astronomy had to await the invention of high-quality...

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