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Very Large Telescope In Chile Captures Remarkably Sharp Images Of Neptune

21 July 2018

Having sharp images of things in space is important if you want to study what planets, stars, nebulae, and other things are made of and how they formed.

Adaptive optics is a technique to compensate for the blurring effect of the Earth's atmosphere, also known as astronomical seeing, which is a big problem faced by all ground-based telescopes.

This isn't the observatory's first adaptive-optics rodeo: Another system, GRAAL, is already in use with infrared camera HAWK-I; in a few years, the powerful new ERIS instrument will follow suit.

Growing importance for improving the quality of optical systems by utilizing adaptive optics technology is the key factor contributes the growth of global adaptive optics market.

New pictures released by the European Southern Observatory utilizing the adaptive optics process have rendered a photograph of distant planet Neptune in greater detail than even that achieved by the Hubble Space Telescope built expressly for the objective of evading such atmospheric distortions. MUSE Wide Field Mode coupled with GALACSI in ground-layer mode allows for correction of the effects of atmospheric turbulence in Earth's atmosphere up to a kilometer above the telescope over a wide field of view.

The image on the right is without the adaptive optics system in operation and the one on the left after the adaptive optics are switched
Neptune looks beautifully blue in sharp new telescope image

The image of Neptune on the left was obtained during the testing of the Narrow-Field adaptive optics mode of the MUSE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope. Adaptive optics technology commonly used in telescopes to enhance the atmospheric aberrations, and also used across various applications including biological research, laser communication and retinal imaging. That new tool allows the VLT to reach the theoretical limit of image sharpness and the telescope is no longer limited by atmospheric blur. This technology filters out nearly all of the atmospheric blurring encountered by terrestrial based telescopes.

The Earth's atmosphere distorts the appearance of objects in space.

"It will enable astronomers to study in unprecedented detail fascinating objects such as supermassive black holes at the centers of distant galaxies, jets from young stars, globular clusters, supernovae, planets and their satellites in the solar system and much more."
The new tool works by beaming four lasers into the sky that generate intense orange light 30 centimeters in diameter. MUSE is the first instrument to benefit from this new facility and has a pair of optics modes including Wide Field Mode and Narrow Field Mode.

GALACSI works through the Laser Guide Star principle of adaptive optics.

Watch Blue Origin launch its New Shepard spacecraft live right here
The last test was conducted in April when the New Shepard was flown at 351,000 feet above the Earth's surface. Those missions will rely on the bigger, more powerful New Glenn rocket still under development.

Very Large Telescope In Chile Captures Remarkably Sharp Images Of Neptune