Changing Planet

Photos: Sharpest Views of the Cosmos Ever

A close-up of the central region of the Orion nebula, taken with the Schulman Telescope at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter. Credit: Adam Block/UA SkyCenter)
A close-up of the central region of the Orion nebula, taken with the Schulman Telescope at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter. Credit: Adam Block/UA SkyCenter)

Astronomers have built a new astro-camera that, when fitted onto the largest observatories on Earth, can snap photos of the universe twice as sharp as the famed Hubble Space Telescope.

With the newly developed technology, giant telescopes can reach their theoretical limits of resolution in visible light —something that was just not possible, until now, because of atmospheric turbulence causing blurry visible light images. (Related: The Largest Baby Star, Ever?)

“It was very exciting to see this new camera make the night sky look sharper than has ever before been possible,” said Laird Close, the project’s principal scientist at the University of Arizona in a press statement.

“We can, for the first time, make long-exposure images that resolve objects just 0.02 arcseconds across — the equivalent of a dime viewed from more than a hundred miles away. At that resolution, you could see a baseball diamond on the Moon,” said Laird Close, lead astronomer for the MagAO project.

Called Adaptive Secondary Mirror (ASM), this new imaging technology sits high above the primary mirror of the telescope, working to counter the atmospheric turbulence by changing the shape of its thin curved glass mirror 1,000 times each second.

“As a result, we can see the visible sky more clearly than ever before,” said Close. “It’s almost like having a telescope with a 21-foot mirror in space.”

 

The Magellan Telescope with MagAO’s Adaptive Secondary Mirror (ASM) jmounted at the top looking down some 30 feet onto the 21-foot diameter primary mirror, which is encased inside the blue mirror cell. Credit: Yuri Beletsky, Las Campanas Observatory
The Magellan Telescope with MagAO’s Adaptive Secondary Mirror (ASM) mounted at the top looking down some 30 feet onto the 21-foot diameter primary mirror, which is encased inside the blue mirror cell. Credit: Yuri Beletsky, Las Campanas Observatory

The new imaging package called MagAO (Magellan Adaptive Optics) takes its name from the Magellan 6.5 meter (21 foot) telescope in  Chile’s high desert, which has been snapping some pretty stunning images of the Orion nebula. (Related: “Most Massive Star Discovered—Shatters Record.”)

As an initial test of the new camera system, astronomers looked to see if they could split a very tight binary star system buried inside the giant gas cloud. Called Theta 1 Ori C, the two stars are about the same distance from each other as Earth is from planet Uranus.

The power of visible light adaptive optics: On the left is a “normal” photo of the theta 1 Ori C binary star in red light. The middle image shows the same object, but with MagAO’s adaptive optics system turned on. Eliminating the atmospheric blurring, the resulting photo becomes about 17 times sharper, turning a blob into a crisp image of a binary star pair. These are the highest resolution photos taken by a telescope. Credit: Laird Close/UA
The power of visible light adaptive optics: On the left is a “normal” photo of the theta 1 Ori C binary star in red light. The middle image shows the same object, but with MagAO’s adaptive optics system turned on. Eliminating the atmospheric blurring, the resulting photo becomes about 17 times sharper, turning a blob into a crisp image of a binary star pair. These are the highest resolution photos taken by a telescope. Credit: Laird Close/UA

“I have been imaging Theta 1 Ori C for more than 20 years and never could directly see that it was in fact two stars,” Close said. “But as soon as we turned on the MagAO system, it was beautifully split into two stars.”

The new photos also reveal surprising details of dust formations associated with the beginnings of planetary systems around the stars. Never-before-seen teardrop shaped clouds carved by strong radiation winds emitted from the baby stars.

“It is important to understand how dust is laid out in these objects because that dust and gas is what nature uses to build planets,” Close explained. “Our new imaging capabilities revealed there is very little dust and gas in the outer part of the disk.”

 

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Cas

    We are looking deep into space, yet who might be looking back at us? Explore the UFO, mutilation and abduction phenomena and you may come realize they’re not just looking at us, they’re here in the world

    A vital perspective on the ET visitation in our world is presented in the Allies of Humanity briefings. http://www.alliesofhumanity.org

  • Shelby Nyberg

    So what’d you do today? I sat on the couch and read this and had to take a few looks at my life to see what I’ve accomplished.

  • Ozgur Unat

    Adaptive optics in not a new technology, AO kits are even available to amateur community as an end product. What is new and different with this new AO compared to existing tech? Is it the frequency of the mirror shapeshift? Or the location of the AO operation? Or something else?

  • Brix

    Would love to see a comparison of same location photos between Hubble and MAO-equipped scope on Earth.

  • Gary Dobbins

    so soo coool

  • Steve

    “Photos: Sharpest Views of the Cosmos Ever:” Where are the views (PLURAL). I see ONE sharp picture of the cosmos. Where are the rest? Quit misleading people with your FALSE headlines.

  • Ron Wall

    All I can say is, “Wow!”

  • matthew

    maybe it’s fake.

  • John

    What a time to be alive.

  • Amir Patel

    beautiful 🙂

  • Merlle ApAmber

    Oh if only this solution could be used on Kepler, I suppose the worst is three fold: not designed in, not already aboard and in space, and worse – too little particle density for guide beams to be of service . I imagine this subsystem concept will gain wide application going forward in many venues.

  • Yao Qk

    Wonderful!

  • skeeter

    “changing the shape of its thin curved glass mirror 1,000 times each second”…….now that is incredible, but it must also have some sort of image stability built into it.

    I did actually see a video of light captured as it moved once.
    Who’d a thunk it?

  • Cadoré

    Merci Beaucoup…

  • lado doder

    Then we can stop build a satelite for”looking”universe

  • Chris Gomez

    This may sound ignorant, as I have not yet fully understood the accepted current theories of the fourth dimension, but… In a sense, could this be what 4D, to a minor degree, looks like? What we see here, is everything that was and is, due to the amount of time that light takes to reach earth, there are things there that no longer exist. Therefore, since time is not 100% relevant in this situation, and since the scope of the view is so unfathomably massive, and everything that we see has merged into one big, beautiful mess, would it be plausible to say this could be a small indicator of what 4D looks like? Obviously I am missing the fact that it does not show everything that WILL BE, but is my thinking along the right lines?

  • Emman Alit

    This is amazing.

  • a

    yea, but how many megapixels is it?

  • Jeffery Phillips

    In the center are four stars. Right above that is a clear picture of a woman’s face. Trippy!

  • samshum

    Beautyful!

  • ashraff odin

    woah best picture of space i’ve ever seen

  • Craig

    This is so awesome. Has the delphinas nova passed. I hear nothing about it lately

  • Jacquelyn Miller

    I would LOVE to have a poster of this, it is gorgeous. Do you have any?

  • Trenton Bostic

    [“We can, for the first time, make long-exposure images that resolve objects just 0.02 arcseconds across — the equivalent of a dime viewed from more than a hundred miles away. At that resolution, you could see a baseball diamond on the Moon,” said Laird Close, lead astronomer for the MagAO project.]

    20/20 vision is equivalent to about 1 arcminute (plane) angular resolution. So, if our eyes could see as well as the optics in this telescope, we would have ~20/0.01 vision in red light! Large print type would be legible from a kilometer away near dusk, if we could see like this telescope.

  • Marcelo Goldwasser

    Funny to read top-science-tech and medieval-superstitious comments in the same page lol

  • Paulette Ward

    This is for Steve in LA asking about the plural(s). Above the pic where you can do several things, there is a place on the right that say’s ” more “. Try it…

  • Benjamin Kaman

    Superb picture quality.

  • Darlene Wilson

    This is so totally brilliant!! And I thought seeing Saturn’s rings for the first time through a small telescope was so neat. Wow, what resolution.

  • Lavonne Lee

    This spectacular photo of the beautiful Orion nebula is only a small glimpse into the wonders of the universe, created by God . We should praise Him.

  • Laith

    Much more than a cute picture, Life in the Universe is an open doorway to a greater human experience and undoubtedly that will be a greatest contact in all universe .

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