Very Large Telescope's new optics reveal sharp Neptune images

The Very Large Telescope's new optics technique revealed amazingly detailed images of Neptune.
By Tyler MacDonald | Jul 19, 2018
Astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) used theVery Large Telescope's (VLT's) new optics technique, laser tomography, to obtain sharp Neptune images that reveal an unprecedented level of detail.

The telescope's new adaptive optics mode corrects for the turbulence that is present in the various layers of Earth's atmosphere. Using this new technology, the VLT's Unit Telescope 4 can create images that rival those of the Hubble Space Telescope.

"It will enable astronomers to study in unprecedented detail fascinating objects such as supermassive black holes at the centres of distant galaxies, jets from young stars, globular clusters, supernovae, planets and their satellites in the solar system and much more," ESO said in a news release.

Atmospheric turbulence is the phenomenon behind twinkling stars, and is a problem that all ground-based telescopes struggle to overcome.

"Light from stars and galaxies becomes distorted as it passes through our atmosphere, and astronomers must use clever technology to improve image quality artificially," the ESO said.

In order to help UT4 compensate for the atmospheric blur stemming from turbulence, they attached four powerful lasers to the mirror. The unique laser tomography mode is one of many adaptive optics systems in astronomy that have been installed in recent years to increase the accuracy of the VLT's numerous instruments.

"This new mode also constitutes a major step forward for the ESO's Extremely Large Telescope, which will need Laser Tomography to reach its science goals," ESO said. "These results on UT4 with the AOF will help to bring ELT's engineers and scientists closer to implementing similar adaptive optics technology on the 39-metre giant.


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