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Imaging an Exoplanet

Accepted submission by RandomFactor at 2020-05-24 18:21:34 from the pixila centauri dept.
Science reports on the bold plan to take pictures of an exoplanet [] so sharp that oceans, continents and even clouds would be discernible.

Right now, it's impossible. From our vantage point, exoplanets—planets orbiting other stars—look like fireflies next to spotlights. In the few images we've managed to take of them, the exoplanets are mere dots. Even as the next generation of space telescopes comes online, this won't change—you'd need a 90-kilometer-wide telescope to see surface features on a planet 100 light years away.

A group of researchers has an audacious plan to overcome these difficulties. It involves using solar sail spacecraft—possibly an entire fleet of them—to fly faster and farther away from Earth than any previous space probe, turn around, and use our distant Sun's gravity as a giant magnifying glass. If it works, we'll capture an image of an exoplanet so sharp that we can see features just 10 kilometers across.

Recently awarded a $2 million grant by NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, and spearheaded by JPL physicist Slava Turyshev, the project,

called the Solar Gravity Lens, or SGL, sounds like something straight out of science fiction. NASA and a collection of universities, aerospace companies and other organizations are involved, as well as Planetary Society co-founder Lou Friedman, the original solar sailing guru.

According to Turyshev

The needed technologies do already exist, but the challenge is how to make use of that technology, how to accelerate their development, and then how to best put them to use. I think we are at the beginning of an exciting period in the space industry, where getting to SGL would be practical, and scientifically exciting."

I wonder if it will come with an EF mount.

Previous Coverage
25 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Selected for 2018 []
Sun Could be Used as a Gravitational Lens by a Spacecraft 550 AU Away []

"Terrascope": Earth's Atmosphere Could be Used as a Refraction Lens for a Space Telescope []

Original Submission