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NASA Intends To Use Sun As Cosmic Telescope

By Piyali Roy staff@sciencetimes.com | Jun 02, 2017 03:21 PM EDT

Astronomers are constantly researching to discover new planets that show some signs of life or biological activity. But the chances are very remote given the current technological scenario for a spacecraft to cover the distance of light years to reach a planet. Even the best of the telescopes invented till date would just provide an image of a tiny point of light which cannot yield any information about the planet. Hence astronomers at NASA have initiated a plan to use the Sun as a cosmic telescope.

The Sun has existed for billions of years & scientists have identified it as one of the most powerful magnifying instruments available to mankind. Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity substantiated that the light bending effect of sun magnified the images of stars if they were lined up right along with our line of sight. The astronomers at NASA want to harness this gravitational lens to develop the sun as a telescope. According to Scientific American, this may enable us to see planets as much as 1000 times more clearly than we can at present.

The idea of a Solar cosmic telescope will utilize these potentials to enhance visual prowess of astronomers in locating and viewing planets 100 light years away. This time it will be viewed not as a small dot or pixel but as a magnified image. A few things do seem rather impractical here. The calculations by NASA show that such a telescope may have a diameter of about 75,000 kilometers. Challenges are imminent when it comes to such large-scale missions.

National Geographic says that scientists at NASA have observed that such a cosmic telescope would have to be positioned about 550 AU away from the Sun. This is almost 14 times further away than Pluto is at present for the light to be focused accurately. The earth's orbit also poses an obstruction, limiting the window of observation of specific stars or sky sections.

NASA plans to face the telescope towards the sun which is a huge mass emitting light. It can be dangerous, but coronagraphic technology would help to create an artificial solar eclipse blocking the sun's light. The challenges may make the invention of this telescope a formidable task but the rewards are astounding as well. If successful, a 1000x1000 pixel image can be captured which will not only help view 10 km square of a planet's surface but also analyze its chemical and atmospheric elements.

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