An incredible super-sharp image of planet Neptune has shown just how far earthbound telescope technology has come, producing an image quality that rivals that of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
The crisp, clear photo was made possible because of a new system of lasers installed in the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT), located in Chile.
The MUSE/GALACSI adaptive optics system allows the telescope to correct the effects of atmospheric turbulence and create sharper spatial images.
The newly released photo of Neptune demonstrates the telescope's greater capabilities, showing that it is now possible to capture images from the ground at visible wavelengths that are sharper than those taken by Hubble, a telescope that orbits the earth.
There are no spacecraft currently orbiting Neptune, so if astronomers want images of the planet, they need to take them from some 4.6 billion kilometers (2.9 billion miles) away.
The VLT also captured photos of star clusters and other objects using laser tomography. The system has two adaptive optics modes: narrow-field mode, which can capture images of small points of the sky with high precision, and wide-field mode, which can capture images of larger parts of the sky but only correct for a kilometer-thick swath of atmosphere distortion, according to the ESO.
The ESO says the impressive technological advances will allow astronomers to study the properties of astronomical objects in much greater detail than was possible before.