NASA astronomers would like to turn the Sun into a giant space telescope

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2017-03-16 19:00:06

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NASA astronomers would like to turn the Sun into a giant space telescope

NASA Astronomers try to look further and further into the Universe, and therefore they need large and powerful telescopes. And that is why a team of experts from the jet propulsion Laboratory (JPL) proposed the idea of using the largest object in our system – the Sun as a giant cosmic "magnifying glass."

According to the General theory of relativity, massive objects can bend space around itself, makes other objects, including the light moving through that space is also bent. And under the right conditions, this light can be bent in such a way that begins to play the role of the lens, which allows you to see what is behind the object. This effect is called gravitational lensing, and astronomers actively use it for many years to repeatedly, but passively, not directly, to increase the power of our telescopes. Because of this effect, for example, we discovered exoplanet , located hundreds of millions of light years from us.

That, of course, all very interesting, but to implement such a project in practice will require overcoming many technical difficulties. Speaking in a presentation at a recent event NASA Planetary Science Vision 2050, a team from JPS said that in this case the review tools will have to be installed at a distance of 550 astronomical units from the Sun, to allow correct focus of light. For reference: 1 astronomical unit (a. E.) equal to the distance from the sun to the Earth. In other words, all our scientific equipment in this case would be located somewhere in interstellar space. For comparison, the same space probe "Voyager-1" — the most remote from Earth man-made space object is at a distance of "only" 137 astronomical units from Earth. Thus to overcome this distance, a small spacecraft took 40 years.

In addition, there is a problem with the orbit of our planet. Depending on the position of our planet relative to the Sun and equipment for observation, a time window of these observations and studies of particular stellar areas would be extremely limited.

But despite all of these technical difficulties, benefit from the installation of such system would be difficult to overestimate. For example, now astronomers is sometimes very difficult, and in some cases even impossible to distinguish a potential exoplanet from the star near which it can lead. In most cases, all we can see is a small set of light pixels (as, for example, in the case of the latter ). However, when using the Sun as a gravitational lens, as well as technologies allowing to reduce the light brightness of the star, we can truly discern and observe directly for themselves exoplanets.

Moreover, in this case we will be able to get more clear pictures in higher resolution, compared to those that can get now. Instead of images with few pixels in the centre we will be able to image 1000 x 1000 pixels. This will be enough to see the 10-mile square of the planet's surface at a distance of 100 light years. The space telescope "Hubble", which is one of the best and most advanced space telescopes of our time, unable to do that, even if we look through his Mars. Increased resolution will also improve our ability to analyze the chemical composition of the atmosphere remote exoplanets using spectroscopic methods.

Despite the complexity of introducing such a system, the level of scientific benefit from such a project would indeed be an astronomical scale.

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