The first exoplanet was discovered in 1992. Since then, astronomers have discovered nearly 5,000 planets orbiting other stars. However, every time a new exoplanet is discovered, there is little information about it. All that is known is that the exoplanet exists and has several characteristics. Everything else, however, remains a mystery. To tackle this problem, Stanford University astrophysicists are working on a new conceptual imaging technique that will be 1,000 times more accurate than the most powerful imaging technology currently in use. Scientists could theoretically manipulate the effect of gravity distortion on space-time, known as lenses, to develop images far more advanced than any currently available.
Researchers seem to have figured out how to use the solar gravitational lens to see planets outside our solar system. Scientists’ predictive technology can allow for significantly more sophisticated astronomical imagery than is currently possible.
Scientists could use the Sun’s gravitational field to magnify light from an exoplanet passing through the alignment of a telescope, the Sun and the exoplanet in one line, with the Sun in the middle.
The gravitational lens, unlike the magnifying glass with a curved surface that bends light, has a curved space-time that allows it to depict distant objects.
Researchers published their findings in the May 2 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.
However, the proposed method would require more advanced space travel than is possible now. Nevertheless, researchers believe that the promise of the concept, as well as what it could tell about other worlds, deserves further research and development.
It was not until 1919, during a solar eclipse, when the gravitational lens was experimentally discovered. Scientists have been able to spot stars near the Sun, far from their known positions, because the Moon blocks sunlight. This was the first observational proof that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity was true, and it was unequivocal proof that gravity can bend light.
Bruce Mackintosh, Professor of Physics at Stanford School of Humanities and Deputy Director of the Cowley Institute for Astrophysics and Particle Cosmology, said that using this technology, they want to be able to take pictures of planets orbiting other stars that are as good as the pictures they can take of planets in the solar system. Researchers hope to take a picture of a planet 100 light-years away that has the same impact as a picture of Earth taken by Apollo 8.