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New image of Neptune
November 02, 2000

Astronomers taking advantage of new adaptive optics on the W. M. Keck II Telescope in Hawaii have obtained the best pictures yet of the planet Neptune, showing an atmosphere rich with dynamic features such as vortices, waves and narrowly spaced bands of clouds similar to those present around Jupiter.

Image of the planet Neptune taken using the new adaptive optics system at the 10-meter diameter Keck II Telescope on the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii. The image uses infrared light with a wavelength of 2 micro-meters to outline the planet in reflected sunlight. The bright bands are haze layers in Neptune’s upper atmosphere. By compensating for the blurring effects of turbulence in the earth’s atmosphere, adaptive optics has shown much more detail in the haze bands than has been previously observed from earth-bound telescopes. The dark stripe is a very narrow slit through which light was directed onto a spectrograph in order to characterize the chemical composition of Neptune’s atmosphere and the heights of the haze layers.

These images were obtained on June 17, 2000, by a team from the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Team members were Professor Imke de Pater and her students Shuleen Chau Martin and Henry Roe, and Livermore scientists Claire Max, Bruce Macintosh and Seran Gibbard.

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