The first technique, known as adaptive optics, is employed by the VLT itself. By firing a laser into the Earth's atmosphere during the observation, a gauge on the turbulence in the upper atmospheric gases can be measured and the effects of which can be removed from the imagery. Any blurriness caused by our thick atmosphere can be adjusted for.
Next up is a precision coronograph inside the instrument that blocks the light from the target star. By doing this, any glare can be removed and any exoplanet in orbit may be bright enough to spot.
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But the third technique, which really teases out any exoplanet signal, is the detection of different polarizations of light from the star system. The polarization of infrared light being generated by the star and the infrared glow from the exoplanet are very subtle. SPHIRES can differentiate between the two, thereby further boosting the observation's contrast.
"SPHERE is a very complex instrument. Thanks to the hard work of the many people who were involved in its design, construction and installation it has already exceeded our expectations. Wonderful!" said Jean-Luc Beuzit, of the Institut de Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble, France and Principal Investigator of SPHERE, in an ESO press release.
The speed and sheer power of SPHIRES will be an obvious boon to astronomers zooming in on distant exoplanets, aiding our understanding of these strange new worlds.