One of the challenges of shooting photography of distant planets from a point on planet Earth is the atmospheric interference that produces a distortion of light, a hurdle that has largely been cleared recently thanks to advancements in technology, according to Space.com. The Very Large Telescope, an installation located in Cerro Paranal, Chile, by the European Southern Observatory project, has recently been upgraded with so-called “adaptive optics” technology that allows for a much sharper image capture than previously possible without breaking through the atmosphere.
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 purpose of evading such atmospheric distortions. Brighter, sharper, and with less blurring, the image produced recently by the Very Large Telescope has rendered the old imagery from a superior vantage point nearly obsolete.
The Very Large Telescope operates based on an array of four telescopes coinciding with 27-foot mirrors, according to Gizmodo. The installation released the first results of observations made using laser tomography, the new adaptive optics mode on its GALASCI unit, which works in tandem alongside a spectrograph tool called MUSE mounted to one of the telescopes.
The new GALASCI system utilizes four 12-inch-wide lasers in a set constellation as “guide stars” to calibrate the photographic tracking, no longer needing to track proximate stars to target heavenly bodies desired for image capture. The lasers thrust forth in a lance of bright orange light, visually arresting and captivating to behold.
Without the adaptive optics tech, photos taken of Neptune even by the Very Large Telescope remain extremely blurry and indistinct, with zero detail or form. The new imagery shows a great amount of color differentiation, proper form and line, and even some atmospheric detail.
The European Southern Observatory released a public statement revealing a great deal of excitement behind the successful test and the future repercussions that such technological development could have in the study of solar bodies.
“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.”
While the best photograph we have of the blue giant Neptune currently remains the 1989 images captured by the Voyager 2 spacecraft from a distance of just 4.4 million miles – as compared with the approximately 2.7 billion miles between Earth and Neptune – during its pass nearly 30 years ago, it remains extremely encouraging for the future of modern astronomy to see such progress in defeating the technical challenges of earthbound astral observation.
Space may remain the final frontier, but scientists remained determined in thrusting back the proverbial curtain of the cosmos and pressing forward into the dark unknown, revealing more of the beauty and the mystery that is the infinite beyond.