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 known planet to date orbiting Proxima Centauri, a star located in Alpha Centauri. This system is the closest to our Solar System, “only” 4,244 light-years from us.

Today July 29, 2022, the popular site ofEncyclopedia of extrasolar planets mentions that the noosphere discovered 5.121 exoplanets since 51 Pegasi B, a discovery made thanks to the Nobel Prize in Physics Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. Futura recently interviewed the creator of this site now world famous, theastronomer French Jean Schneider.

The knowledge of the existence of these exoplanets is a remarkable development in the History ofHomo sapiens but it remains very partial because, for the most part, we have only estimates mass and distances for these exoplanets, and some rare ones spectra give a embryos composition ofatmospheres to shorten it.

Obviously, we want to have at least images of the details of these exoplanets, especially if they are exoterres potential. In fact, we want to discover biosignatures and even technosignatures out there.

the in recently allocated new funds for the study of a unique project that can be done in the XXI erae century for this purpose. The project itself is only on the cards and there is no question of physically doing it. This is a avatar in a concept proposed in 1979 by a researcher at Stanford University, VR Eshleman: the lens gravitational solar.

In concrete terms, this means taking advantage of the fact that the field of gravitation of a celestial body deflects light rays like a lens and therefore provides a magnifying factor to form images. By placing yourself at a distance from the Sun, it is therefore possible to use it as gravitational lens to form an image of an exoplanet with a resolutions record, as we have a giant telescope larger than what can be built on Earth due to gravity deforming the mirror under its own weight.

Researchers want Slava G. Turyshev from Jet Propulsion Laboratory as well as Alexander Madurowicz and Bruce Macintosh from Stanford so published in arXiv and in an article by The Astrophysical Journal they have been developing the concept for several years.

A fleet of telescopes powered by solar sails

So far, the general ideas on this topic are as follows:

By directly using, like a telescope, a gravitational lens to form images of an exoplanet, however we have ambiguous results. The best is to have several instruments flying in a flock and each observing a part of the equivalent of a ring ofEinstein for the solar lens, ie a deformation of the image of the exoplanet forming a ring, as in the case of some observations of quasars using a strong gravitational lens created by a cluster of galaxies.

Concretely, it requires sending this group to distances between 548 and 900 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun, which will make it possible to form images of exoplanets up to about 100 light years in the Sun. There is no problem in theory therefore observing exoplanets around Proxima Centauri and Trappist 1for example.

With an instrument whose mirror is about one meter in diameter, we can obtain images of the surface of these exoplanets with a resolution of the order of several tens of kilometers.

However, there are several difficulties with this idea. With current propulsion technology, it would take a century to send instruments over long distances. We can shorten the time to about 25-30 years, which is reasonable for duration life of a person involved in this project, use solar sail. The technology of these sails is not yet perfect, although it is getting close.

Explanations of the latest concept of a mission to exploit solar gravitational lensing to image exoplanets. © The Aerospace Corporation

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