SPHERE is the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research instrument, and ithas been installed on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. This picture is from its first light observations and shows a dust ring around a star known as HR 4796A.
The new instrument uses multiple advanced techniques, yielding dramatically better performance than previously possible. The first is improved adaptive optics to correct for the effects of the Earth’s atmosphere so that images are sharper and the contrast of the exoplanet increased. Second, a coronagraph is used to block out the light from the star and increase the contrast still further. Third, differential imaging exploits differences between planetary and stellar light color or polarization.
Image Credit: ESO