Une vue d'artiste d'une exoterre. © Nasa Ames, SETI Institute, JPL-Caltech

NASA wants to use the sun to see the surface of exoplanets!

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[EN VIDÉO] Proxima b, the closest exoplanet to us!
It is the only planet known to date that orbits the star Proxima Centauri, a star located in Alpha Centauri. This system is closest to our solar system, “only” at 4,244 light-years from us.

On July 29, 2022, websiteEncyclopedia of extrasolar planets It is reported that the Noosphere discovered 5.121 outer planets Since 51 Pegasi B, a discovery has been made thanks to Nobel Prize winners in Physics Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. Futura recently gave an interview to creator of this site Now world famous,astronomer French Jean Schneider.

Knowing the existence of these exoplanets is an extraordinary advance in the history ofsane man But it’s still very partial because, most of the time, we only have estimates masses and distances for these exoplanets, a few of which are rare spectra give fetus Consists ofambiance for his fault.

Obviously, we would at least like to have pictures of the details of these exoplanets, especially if they are exoterres Ability. Ideally, we would even like to detect biometrics and even technical signatures there.

The NASA I recently allocated new funds to study an amazing project that can be implemented in the 21st centurye century for this. The project itself is only in the cards and there is no doubt that it has actually been implemented yet. Related symbol picture For a concept proposed by a Stanford University researcher, VR Eshleman in 1979: lens Solar gravity.

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Concretely, this means taking advantage of the fact that the field of gravity From a celestial body it deflects light rays like a lens, thus providing a magnification factor for image formation. By placing yourself at a certain distance from the sun, you can thus use it as a gravity lens To form the image of an exoplanet with a stretch Precision Record, as if we had a file giant telescope Much larger than those that can be built on Earth due to the gravity that distorts the mirror under its own weight.

Researchers like Slava J. Turishchev The Jet Propulsion Laboratory As well as Alexander Madurovic and Bruce Macintosh From Stanford University published on arXiv And in an article by Astrophysical Journal For a few years already as the concept was developed.

A swarm of telescopes powered by solar sails

Currently, the general thoughts on this topic are as follows:

By using a gravitational lens directly, as with a telescope, to make images of an exoplanet, we will get somewhat nebulous results. The best is to have multiple instruments flying in a swarm and each observing a portion of the equivalent of a ring ofEinstein For the solar lens, that is, distorting the image of an exoplanet forming a ring, as in the case of some observations quasars Using a strong gravitational lens produced by a galaxy cluster.

Concretely, this would require sending this swarm to distances between 548 and 900 times the distance from Earth to the Sun, making it possible to create images of exoplanets up to about 100 light years from the sun. So, in theory, there is no problem in observing the exoplanets around it Proxima Centauri And the Trappist 1for example.

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Using a single instrument with a mirror diameter of about one meter, we can obtain images of the surface of these exoplanets with a resolution of a few tens of kilometers.

However, there are many difficulties with this idea. With current propulsion technology, it would take about a century to send devices a good distance. We can at best shorten the period to about 25-30 years, which is reasonable for Duration The life of a person involved in this project, using sun sails. The technology of these sails has not yet been mastered, although reasonably close.

Explanations on the latest concept of a mission to exploit the solar gravitational lens for imaging exoplanets. © Aerospace Corporation

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