Researchers want to ‘turn’ the Sun into a giant telescope to search for extraterrestrial life

(ORDO NEWS) — An ambitious project funded by NASA proposes to use the Sun as a giant lens to peer into the far corners of the universe and possibly detect biosignatures there, possible traces of extraterrestrial life.

The project, led by Vyacheslav Turyshev, a Russian-American astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, received $2 million in funding from the space agency’s Advanced Concepts Institute back in 2020, an initiative that has supported many other exciting endeavors over the years.

A recent , yet to be peer-reviewed article states that Turyshev’s team has already teamed up with The Aerospace Corporation, a California-based federally funded research nonprofit, to explore the feasibility of the bold idea.

Telescope named Sun

According to Turyshev’s plan, several small satellites will be involved in the mission, which will have to be grouped at the point of the solar gravitational lens (solar gravity lens, SGL).

To do this, the spacecraft will have to cover a distance of 1,000 astronomical units (149,597,870,691 kilometers), a journey that could take more than 25 years.

Researchers want to turn the Sun into a giant telescope to search for extraterrestrial life 2

The SGL represents the location where the satellite constellation, the Sun, and the target to be observed (such as an exoplanet) form a straight line.

The Sun’s gravitational field will greatly amplify the light from the exoplanet as it passes by, allowing satellites to see far beyond what we could afford so far.

In order to overcome the huge distance relatively quickly, each spacecraft will be equipped with a solar sail, experiments with which show impressive results.

Recall that a solar sail is a device that uses the pressure of sunlight or a laser on a large-area mirror surface to slowly accelerate the vehicle to high speeds.

The LightSail-2 solar sail project deployed in Earth orbit proves the technology’s effectiveness, but unfortunately it has never been tested over long distances.

Researchers want to turn the Sun into a giant telescope to search for extraterrestrial life 3
The concept of observing an Earth-like exoplanet about 98 light-years from Earth from the SGL point using a small 40 cm telescope in the mid-infrared spectrum, combined with an external sunshade to block out the Sun’s light. Left: Original image at 128×128 pixels. Center: Blurred image projected by SGL onto the image plane. Right: image after deconvolution. This concept will be able to provide high quality images with spatial or spectral resolution over a wide range of wavelengths

“If such a mission ever became an astronomical reality, then we could potentially look into another star system without going there on our own,” Turyshev’s team writes. “This is our only way for the foreseeable future to learn more about exosolar sister planets similar to our home world.”

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