SPHERE images the dust ring around the star HR 4796A
Sphere image of dust ring around the star HR 4796A looks like Sauron's Eye ESO

The Eye of Sauron has been found around a star 237 light years from Earth with a new research instrument at the European Southern Observatory.

Captured with the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research (Sphere) instrument, the image shows a bright ring of dust encircling the star HR 4796A, giving it the appearance of Sauron's Eye from Lord of the Rings.

Sphere captured the dust ring with "exceptional clarity", and shows how it can suppress the glare of the bright star at the centre of the image, ESO said.

he SPHERE instrument attached to the VLT
The Sphere instrument attached to the VLT ESO

The instrument has been installed on ESO's Very Large Telescope at its observatory in Chile and is a new facility for finding and studying exoplanets.

It offers a much better performance than previous instruments and is expected to "revolutionise" the study of exoplanets and circumstellar discs.

Jean-Luc Beuzit, of the Institut de Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble and Principal Investigator of Sphere, said: "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!"

The Real Eye of Sauron
Another Eye of Sauron was spotted in space in 2013. NASA, ESA, and P. Kalas (Unive

In a normal image of space, even in the best conditions, light from stars swamps the glow from the planet. Sphere is designed to focus on reaching the highest contrast possible in a tiny patch of sky around a star, providing a sharper contrast.

It also blocks out the light from the star and exploits differences between planetary and stellar light in terms of colour or polarisation to reveal "invisible" exoplanets.

"This is just the beginning. Sphere is a uniquely powerful tool and will doubtless reveal many exciting surprises in the years to come," Beuzit said.

Another Eye of Sauron was discovered in space last year by Nasa's Hubble telescope.