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posted by janrinok on Wednesday March 25 2020, @04:14PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the peek-a-boo dept.

New telescope design could capture distant celestial objects with unprecedented detail:

Researchers have designed a new camera that could allow hypertelescopes to image multiple stars at once. The enhanced telescope design holds the potential to obtain extremely high-resolution images of objects outside our solar system, such as planets, pulsars, globular clusters and distant galaxies.

"A multi-field hypertelescope could, in principle, capture a highly detailed image of a star, possibly also showing its planets and even the details of the planets' surfaces," said Antoine Labeyrie, emeritus professor at the Collège de France and Observatoire de la Cote d'Azur, who pioneered the hypertelescope design. "It could allow planets outside of our solar system to be seen with enough detail that spectroscopy could be used to search for evidence of photosynthetic life."

In The Optical Society's (OSA) journal Optics Letters, Labeyrie and a multi-institutional group of researchers report optical modeling results that verify that their multi-field design can substantially extend the narrow field-of-view coverage of hypertelescopes developed to date.

Large optical telescopes use a concave mirror to focus light from celestial sources. Although larger mirrors can produce more detailed pictures because of their reduced diffractive spreading of the light beam, there is a limit to how large these mirrors can be made. Hypertelescopes are designed to overcome this size limitation by using large arrays of mirrors, which can be spaced widely apart.

Researchers have previously experimented with relatively small prototype hypertelescope designs, and a full-size version is currently under construction in the French Alps. In the new work, researchers used computer models to create a design that would give hypertelescopes a much larger field of view. This design could be implemented on Earth, in a crater of the moon or even on an extremely large scale in space.

Building a hypertelescope in space, for example, would require a large flotilla of small mirrors spaced out to form a very large concave mirror. The large mirror focuses light from a star or other celestial object onto a separate spaceship carrying a camera and other necessary optical components.

"The multi-field design is a rather modest addition to the optical system of a hypertelescope, but should greatly enhance its capabilities," said Labeyrie. "A final version deployed in space could have a diameter tens of times larger than the Earth and could be used to reveal details of extremely small objects such as the Crab pulsar, a neutron star believed to be only 20 kilometers in size."

[...] Incorporating the multi-field addition into hypertelescope prototypes would require developing new components, including adaptive optics components to correct residual optical imperfections in the off-axis design. The researchers are also continuing to develop alignment techniques and control software so that the new camera can be used with the prototype in the Alps. They have also developed a similar design for a moon-based version.

Supersharp images from new VLT adaptive optics

More information: Zongliang Xie et al, Hypertelescope with multiplexed fields of view, Optics Letters (2020). DOI: 10.1364/OL.385953

Journal information: Optics Letters Provided by The Optical Society


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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Runaway1956 on Wednesday March 25 2020, @05:48PM (4 children)

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 25 2020, @05:48PM (#975548) Homepage Journal

    Put a boatload of telescopes at widely spread points around the solar system, with the majority above and below the ecliptic. (actually I think most of Ender's were on the ecliptic, but we can do better) Then all you need to coordinate those telescopes are some ansibles. Voila - you have a telescope larger than the sun, with a focal point to hell.

    Who is making the best quality ansibles these days?

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    • (Score: 3, Touché) by DannyB on Wednesday March 25 2020, @06:11PM (2 children)

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 25 2020, @06:11PM (#975553) Journal

      There is a problem with your plan. Unlike an Earth based telescope, a space based telescope would be unable to see the Starlink satellites.

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      • (Score: 4, Interesting) by takyon on Wednesday March 25 2020, @06:22PM (1 child)

        by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Wednesday March 25 2020, @06:22PM (#975555) Journal

        Hubble is at about 540 km, some of the Starlink sats will be at 1,325 km.

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        • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday March 25 2020, @06:39PM

          by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 25 2020, @06:39PM (#975561) Journal

          Wow. That is high. Considering space shuttle Columbia was unable to reach the ISS, let alone the Hubble; and considering that reaching the Hubble in any capable shuttle was at the limits of what the shuttle could do, it is impressive for some Starlink sats to be about 2.5 times as far out.

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    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2020, @11:10PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2020, @11:10PM (#975627)

      This type of telescope was also described in the Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, volume 3

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2020, @07:09PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2020, @07:09PM (#975571)

    so maybe the detectors can be made more sensitif too? i assume the quantum mechanics stuff cut at least give a absolute lower limit to sensitivity?
    setup a experiment where you try to detect thru which of two slit a electron is going and if it is "measured" the normal "blind" interference pattern disappears.
    but we don't really setup a separate photon emitter to interfere ..errr... measure the flight-path of the electron but rather just let (collected) telescope light to it.
    so maybe the picture is just digital, black and white or whatnot but by looking at the existence (or not) of the electron interference pattern we know if a photon was collected (or not) by the telescope?
    or sumthing such ^_^

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2020, @07:10PM (4 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2020, @07:10PM (#975572)

    They've been building telescope arrays for a while now. Maybe this is slightly different as they are sending the direct optical feed to the camera instead of post-processing the data from multiple cameras?

    • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2020, @07:40PM (3 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 25 2020, @07:40PM (#975581)

      No, not redundant. There are no practical telescope arrays for visible wavelengths. The ones that do exist rely on massive infrastructure to achieve stability.

      This design is only a concept as well. They are building a prototype, which like the others will require massive infrastructure to achieve stability. The tradeoff in the design of all of these arrays is that, even if you can build one that works (and that is a HUGE technical challenge), the gain in resolution you achieve comes at the expense of light collection capability. For instance, if you took two Hubbles and kept them 180-degrees apart in their orbit and you phased their outputs, you've made a telescope with the resolving capability of a telescope with a diameter of 12,000 km, but it has the light collecting ability that is something like 100*2*1.4/6000e3 = 4e-5 % of that virtual telescope. So, to get the signal-to-noise equivalent of a 1-second exposure of your giant virtual telescope, you'd need to have each Hubble-sized one take an exposure of 1/(4e-7) = 2.5E6 seconds = 29 days.

      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 26 2020, @12:11AM (2 children)

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 26 2020, @12:11AM (#975647) Journal

        The tradeoff in the design of all of these arrays is that, even if you can build one that works (and that is a HUGE technical challenge), the gain in resolution you achieve comes at the expense of light collection capability. For instance, if you took two Hubbles and kept them 180-degrees apart in their orbit and you phased their outputs, you've made a telescope with the resolving capability of a telescope with a diameter of 12,000 km, but it has the light collecting ability that is something like 100*2*1.4/6000e3 = 4e-5 % of that virtual telescope.

        But it's still the light collection capacity of two Hubbles. You aren't actually sacrificing light collection for virtual aperture.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2020, @09:21AM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 26 2020, @09:21AM (#975781)

          You might have the optical resolution to take a 5 megapixel image of an extra-solar planet but if you only collect 3 photons it is still going to be 3 dots on a black plate.
          Given the length of exposures Hubble currently uses, collection is much more of a limit than resolution.

          • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 26 2020, @03:22PM

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 26 2020, @03:22PM (#975913) Journal

            You might have the optical resolution to take a 5 megapixel image of an extra-solar planet but if you only collect 3 photons it is still going to be 3 dots on a black plate.

            It still would be 3 photons even if the telescopes weren't so employed. You haven't lost any light collecting capacity.

            Given the length of exposures Hubble currently uses, collection is much more of a limit than resolution.

            Only if you're imaging such faint objects.

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