Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Space shield could help image Earth-like planets

06.07.2006
Orbiting starshade would block out light from parent stars, says University of Colorado study

A gigantic, daisy-shaped space shield could be used to block out pesky starlight and allow astronomers using an orbiting telescope to zero in on Earth-like planets in other solar systems, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder study.


The daisy-shaped starshade will allow light from distant planets to pass unimpeded into the orbiting space telescope. Credit: CU-Boulder


Roughly half the size of a football field, the starshade will be equipped with thrusters to move into the line of sight of distant stars Credit: CU-Boulder

The thin plastic "starshade" would allow a telescope trailing thousands of miles behind it to image light from distant planets skimming by the giant petals without being swamped by light from the parent stars, said CU-Boulder Professor Webster Cash. Researchers could then identify planetary features like oceans, continents, polar caps and cloud banks and even detect biomarkers like methane, oxygen and water if they exist, he said.

"We think this is a compelling concept, particularly because it can be built today with existing technology," said Cash. "We will be able to study Earth-like planets tens of trillions of miles away and chemically analyze their atmospheres for signs of life."

A paper on the subject by Cash is featured on the cover of the July 6 issue of Nature. The paper includes mathematical solutions to optical challenges like the bending and scattering of light between the pliable, 50-yard-in-diameter starshade and the space telescope, which would orbit in tandem roughly 15,000 miles apart.

Scientists would launch the telescope and starshade together into an orbit roughly 1 million miles from Earth, then remotely unfurl the starshade and use small thrusters to move it into lines of sight of nearby stars thought to harbor planets, said Cash. The thrusters would be intermittently turned on to hold the starshade steady during the observations of the planets, which would appear as bright specks.

"Think of an outfielder holding up one hand to block out the sunlight as he tracks a fly ball," said Cash, director of CU-Boulder's Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy. "We would use the starshade as a giant hand to suppress the light emanating from a central star by a factor of about 10 billion."

The novel concept could be used to map planetary systems around distant stars and detect planets as small as Earth's moon, said Cash. In recent years, more than 175 planets have been discovered orbiting other stars.

Dubbed the New Worlds Observer, Cash's design was selected for a $400,000 funding boost last October by NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts after being selected for initial study in 2004. The team includes researchers from Princeton University, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Ball Aerospace of Boulder, Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles and the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C.

The team also has submitted a $400 million proposal with NASA's Discovery Program to launch a stand-alone starshade to work in concert with the powerful James Webb Space Telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope is an infrared observatory slated for launch in 2013 and considered the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Alternative proposals for imaging distant planets involve suppressing parent starlight once it has entered the telescope -- a complicated, Rube Goldberg-like undertaking involving shifting mirrors and active electronics, said Marc Kuchner of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center's Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory. "In contrast, this is a very clean and simple optical concept, and may be the most promising idea yet on how to directly image our Earth-like neighbors," said Kuchner, also a member of the New Worlds Observer science team.

"For over a century, science fiction writers have speculated on the existence of Earth-like planets around nearby stars," Cash wrote in Nature. "If they actually exist, use of an occulter could find them within the next decade."

An even more advanced version of the New Worlds Imager might involve a ring of telescopes placed on the moon beneath a fleet of orbiting starshades that would allow scientists to actually photograph distant, Earth-like planets, Cash speculated. "There is a bit of Buck Rogers in the New Worlds Imager concept, but seeking and mapping new lands is something that seems to ring deep in the human psyche."

Webster Cash | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.colorado.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht SF State astronomer searches for signs of life on Wolf 1061 exoplanet
20.01.2017 | San Francisco State University

nachricht Molecule flash mob
19.01.2017 | Technische Universität Wien

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>