This image of Neptune was obtained during the testing of the Narrow-Field adaptive optics mode of the MUSE/GALACSI instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope.

Several billion miles from Earth, Neptune’s looking particularly sharp in a set of new images captured by one of the most powerful telescopes in the world.

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.

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.

Neptune, seen by the Very Large Telescope before and after adaptive optics Image: ESO/P. Weilbacher (AIP)
Neptune in the VLT versus Hubble Image: ESO/P. Weilbacher (AIP)/NASA, ESA, and M.H. Wong and J. Tollefson (UC Berkeley)

The method delivers sharper and more detailed images, as seen in a comparison showing Neptune with the use of the adaptive optics and then the gas giant without, which makes the planet look like a vague and fuzzy blue ball.

“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,”