A Sharper View of a Hazy Giant

This dramatic image of Jupiter is touted as the sharpest picture of the entire gas giant ever taken from
the ground. The picture was made using a prototype instrument known as MAD (Multi-conjugate
Adaptive optics Demonstrator) mounted on one of the European Southern Observatory's 8-meter
diameter Very Large Telescope units in Chile. Working at infrared wavelengths the MAD instrument
removes atmospheric blurring, the bane of earthbound telescopes, by using multiple guide stars and
deformable mirrors to sense and correct for the distortions produced by turbulence in Earth's atmosphere.
Hydrogen and methane deep in Jupiter's own thick atmosphere absorb light at infrared wavelengths. So,
this sharper view shows the infrared sunlight reflected from the giant planet's high level haze prominent
in the equatorial regions and near the poles, revealing features as small as 300 kilometers across. The
promising technique can also be applied to imaging other extended objects like star clusters and nebulae.