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Adaptive optics focus on the Moon

12 Aug 2002

The Very Large Telescope in Chile has taken one of the sharpest images of the lunar surface ever recorded from the ground.

Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) have released what they claim may be 'the sharpest image of the lunar surface ever recorded from the ground'. The image was taken with the NACO adaptive optics camera that is deployed on ESO's 8.2-meter diameter Very Large Telescope (VLT).

Instruments based on adaptive optics (AO) use a bright, point-like source as a reference to correct images for optical distortions caused by light passing through the atmosphere. As part of on-going testing of the NACO camera, ESO scientists decided to try out the AO system using a sunlit mountain on the moon as a guide.

The image was taken through a narrow-band infrared filter at a wavelength of 2.3 microns using an exposure time of 0.22 seconds. With a sharpness of about 130 meters on the lunar surface, the picture represents what an astronaut would see from 400 km above the Moon.

The field of view measures approximately 60 x 45 square kilometers. It shows an area about 700 km from the Apollo XI landing site in the Moon's Eastern hemisphere.

The photo shows part of a 10-km wide crater name Cameron, which is surrounded by level terrain and many smaller craters. A second, eroded 56-km crater called Taruntius can also be seen in the lower right corner.

ESO says that images of other areas on the lunar surface may be attempted in the future with the VLT and NACO.

Jacqueline Hewett is news reporter on Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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