Scientists have devised a radical plan to use the sun as a massive telescope, tapping into an effect known as gravitational lensing to view alien worlds in ultra-high resolution.
The plan, revealed by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory during a recent workshop, could allow us to glimpse exoplanets in unprecedented detail, revealing their ‘surface features and signs of habitability.’
While most systems now rely on just a few pixels to view distant worlds, a device of this kind would essentially use the sun’s gravity as a magnifying glass to achieve 1000×1000 pixel imaging.
The researchers revealed their proposal at the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop in Washington DC, which aims to identify goals that could potentially be implemented before 2050.
Currently, telescopes are limited by size and baseline distance.
But, the scientists say we could push our imaging capabilities much further by using the sun.
‘The natural high-ground for multi-pixel imaging of exoplanets resides along the line (region) called the Solar Gravitational Lens (SGL) Focus that takes advantage of the fact that the Sun’s large gravitational field focuses light from faint, distant sources into the SGL region,’ the team wrote.