Adaptive optics lifts Earth's atmospheric veil to reveal a sharper cosmos
21 July, 2018, 16:56 | Author: Darnell Taylor
Located in Chile, the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) used what's known as laser tomography to capture test images of the planet and surrounding star clusters. With VLT's new capabilities, it is now possible to capture space images from the ground at visible wavelengths that are sharper than those from Hubble.
GALACSI had previously been able to work with the MUSE spectrograph to obtain wide field-of-view observations of the cosmos that were relatively free from atmospheric interference.
The telescope's Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument works with what's called the GALACSI adaptive optics module.This allows the telescope to correct for turbulence at different altitudes in the atmosphere, resulting in some incredibly clear, sharp images captured from Earth.
There are two optics modes on the VLT - the narrow-field mode that can focus on small points of the sky with high precision, and the wide-field mode, that can do the same but only correct a kilometer-thick of atmosphere distortion.
The ESO says such sharpness is very hard to attain and allows images to be taken that are comparable in sharpness to those taken with the Hubble telescope that doesn't have to deal with the atmosphere at all. The narrow field mode is what's generating these incredibly sharp images of Neptune - it corrects nearly all of the turbulence above the telescope, but only over a smaller section of the sky.
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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.
These atoms serve as laser guide stars, and the light they bounce back is used to measure atmospheric turbulence.
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.
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.
MUSE is not the only instrument to benefit from the Adaptive Optics Facility. 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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