For over 20 years, astronomers at the University of Arizona, the Arcetri Observatory in Italy, and the Carnegie Observatory in Chile have been working on a new kind of telescopic camera technology that allows images of the night sky to be taken with an unprecedented clarity. These cameras, attached to the Magellan Telescope in Chile, have captured the clearest photos of the night sky ever.
For the first time, long-exposure images of the night sky were captured that allow objects to be viewed at just 0.02 arcseconds across. To understand that, think of standing on the Earth and looking up at the moon with the visible eye and clearly seeing a baseball diamond on its surface. In comparison, the Hubble Space Telescope — which previously held the record for the sharpest photos taken of space — only takes images about half as clear.
The Magellan Telescope has a 21-foot diameter mirror, which is one reason it can take better pictures. Compared to the Hubble's 8-foot mirror, that makes a big difference. However, even with so large a mirror, image blurring is still a problem when taking photos from Earth, due to disturbances in the atmosphere. To avoid this problem, a second mirror was attached to the telescope that changes its shape to adapt to the atmosphere 1,000 times per second. This prevents the blurriness that other ground-based telescopes usually experience.
This new camera system has already made a major discovery. The star Theta1 Ori C in the Orion nebula has long been a subject of contention: astronomers believe it is actually a pair of stars. Unfortunately, those scientists have not been able to prove that as the distance between the two is so small. However, after photos were taken with the Magellan Telescope, scientists could easily see the differentiation between the two stars, proving their theory.
New photos from the telescope are sure to provide answers for more mysteries from space.