Giant Planet Saturn H  K-band Composite
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Giant Planet Saturn (H + K-band Composite)

April 22, 2005
With its new NAOS-CONICA Adaptive Optics facility, the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory has recently obtained impressive views of the giant planet Saturn and Io, the volcanic moon of Jupiter.

They show the two objects with great clarity, unprecedented for a ground-based telescope. The photos were made during the ongoing commissioning of this major VLT instrument, while it is being optimized and prepared for regular observations that will start later this year.

This photo shows the giant planet Saturn, as observed with the VLT NAOS-CONICA Adaptive Optics instrument on December 8, 2001; the distance was 1209 million km. It is a composite of exposures in two near-infrared wavebands (H and K) and displays well the intricate, banded structure of the planetary atmosphere and the rings. Note also the dark spot at the south pole at the bottom of the image. One of the moons, Tethys, is visible as a small point of light below the planet. It was used to guide the telescope and to perform the adaptive optics "refocussing" for this observation.

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