A team of NASA scientists has begun to develop a concept for detailed imaging of the planet’s surface from another solar system using gravitational lensing.
The list of recent grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States resembles an excerpt from a science fiction story, as it includes a project to turn a lunar crater into a giant radio telescope, the development of a deceleration system for an antimatter interstellar spacecraft, and mapping of small bodies of the solar system..
This list also contains a program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which wants to photograph an exoplanet using our star. as a giant camera lens.
The sun’s immense gravity can act as a lens, refracting light from other stars. According to the theory of Albert Einstein, if the observer is in the focal region where the curved rays converge, such a gravitational lens should significantly amplify all the radiation behind it..
NASA astrophysicists plan to use this effect and a space telescope, which will be sent 97 billion km from the Sun, to photograph Earth-like exoplanets 100 light years away..
Scientists estimate that sending the aircraft to the desired area will provide a snapshot megapixel quality after years of shooting. Although each pixel will correspond to 35 km2, this will be enough to determine the features of the surface of the planets and signs of life on them..
Despite the seeming simplicity of the project, there are a number of technical difficulties. The main problem is the focal length, which is 16 times farther than Pluto, so it will take more than 25 years for the device to get there..
After that, the telescope will need to find the point where the light from the exoplanet will focus as clearly as possible. This may be a radiation flux with a diameter of 1 km, which will need to be accurately determined. Since the device will be small, it will need to constantly move in this area in order to capture one pixel of the surface image from each position as clearly as possible..
In recent years others countries have also begun to actively develop their space programs. For example, the EU is funding the development of giant orbital mirrors that will reflect light onto solar farms at night..
text: Ilya Bauer, photo: NASA