Installed on a telescope in Chile's Atacama Desert, the new technology has enabled the capturing of visible-light images twice as sharp as those snapped by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, they said.
Astronomers at the University of Arizona, along with U.S. and Italian colleagues, have been working on the improved telescope technology for more than 20 years, the university said in a release Wednesday.
"It was very exciting to see this new camera make the night sky look sharper than has ever before been possible," UA astronomy Professor Laird Close said.
To overcome atmospheric turbulence that plagues all ground-based telescopes, the researchers developed a very powerful adaptive optics system that floats a thin 1/16th-inch curved glass mirror in a magnetic field 30 feet above the 21-foot primary mirror of the Chile telescope.
This mirror can change its shape at 585 points on its surface 1,000 times a second, counteracting the blurring effects of the atmosphere, the researchers said.
"As a result, we can see the visible sky more clearly than ever before," Close said. "It's almost like having a telescope with a 21-foot mirror in space."