posted on Apr, 1 2014 @ 11:13 AM
The flower you see in this animation isn’t NASA’s attempt to celebrate the coming of spring. It’s actually the latest design in a cutting-edge
effort to take pictures of planets orbiting stars far from the sun.
Astronomers have been indirectly detecting exoplanets for more than 15 years, but actually taking a picture of one has proven an immensely
difficult task. Picking out the dim light of a planet from a star billions of times brighter is akin to finding a needle in a cosmic haystack,
especially when the planet in question is a small, rocky world similar to Earth. In order to achieve this feat, researchers are developing techniques
to block out the starlight while preserving the light emitted by the planet. This is called starlight suppression.
It’s a task that NASA’s flower-shaped starshade is designed to make easier. Working in conjunction with a space-based telescope, the starshade is
able to position itself precisely between the telescope and the star that’s being observed, and can block the starlight before it even reaches the
With the starlight suppressed, light coming from exoplanets orbiting the star would be visible. Using this technology, astronomers would be able to
take actual pictures of exoplanets – images that could provide clues as to whether such worlds could support life as we know it.
Despite these challenges, the starshade approach could offer planet-hunters many advantages. “One of the starshade’s strengths is simplicity,”
said Kasdin. “Light from the star never reaches the telescope because it’s blocked by the starshade, which allows the telescope system to be
simpler.” Another advantage of the starshade approach is that it can be used with a multi-purpose space telescope designed to make observations that
could be useful to astronomers working in fields other than exoplanets.
edit on 4/1/2014 by freakjive because: (no reason given)