Move over, Hubble. This sharp pic of Neptune was taken from Earth | Science News

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Move over, Hubble. This sharp pic of Neptune was taken from Earth

Cancelling out blur from Earth’s atmosphere lets astronomers focus like never before

By
6:00am, July 18, 2018
Neptune

SHARP EYES  A new strategy at the Very Large Telescope in Chile lets the ground-based observatory take visible light images of Neptune (left) that rival those from the Hubble Space Telescope (right) in clarity.

A telescope on Earth has snapped pictures of Neptune at least as clear as those from the Hubble Space Telescope. The trick? Taking the twinkle out of stars.

Released by the European Southern Observatory on July 18, the images come from a new observing system on the Very Large Telescope in Chile. The instrument uses four lasers to cancel out blurring caused by Earth’s atmosphere — the same effect that makes it look like stars are twinkling — at different altitudes.

The system is an updated version of adaptive optics (SN: 6/14/03, p. 373), a technique astronomers have long used to focus telescopes. Lasers create artificial “stars” whose size and brightness are precisely known. That gives scientists a way to measure how the atmosphere is distorting their view of real, faraway stars at any given moment. Small motors then

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