- Optical systems capable of adjusting to compensate for atmospheric distortion. Adaptive optics were advanced during the 1980s and 1990s because of spending by the US on the Strategic Defense Initiative, which called for methods of firing laser beams accurately through the atmosphere. Adaptive optics systems use an optical system to determine distortions to incoming starlight and compute the necessary alterations to optical surfaces to render the image as precise as possible. To be effective this procedure has to be applied several thousand times a second. It is possible in principle for adaptive optics telescopes to approach the resolution of space-based telescopes at a fraction of their cost and complexity.