New Camera Lets Astronomers Take Sharpest Ever Photos of the Universe

An international team of astronomers are having a blast with a new type of camera that can take photos of space that are twice as sharp as those taken by the Hubble Telescope. The technology's been in the works for over 20 years, and when you see the pictures you can see why they were worth the wait.

The key innovation in the new space camera is an ultrathin curved glass mirror that floats on a magnetic field above the telescope's primary mirror. This mirror counteracts the blurring effect created by atmospheric turbulence by changing its shape at 585 different points up to 1,000 times per second. The results are impressive to say the least.

"It was very exciting to see this new camera make the night sky look sharper than has ever before been possible," said the project's principal scientist Laird Close 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."

The new camera is now being deployed at the high altitude Magellan telescope in Chile's Atacama desert. The first major victory for the new technology came with new photographs of the Theta 1 Ori C binary star system. The two stars are so close together—about the distance from Earth to Uranus—that previous cameras haven't been able to see the separation. But with this new camera and its crazy floating mirror, astronomers can see through the dust clearly:

New Camera Lets Astronomers Take Sharpest Ever Photos of the Universe

But those are just the details. This new camera really shines when it goes big. Really, really, really big. [University of Arizona via National Geographic]

New Camera Lets Astronomers Take Sharpest Ever Photos of the Universe