Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Anyone Got Some Sunglasses?

This is cool.  In the effort to confirm whether extrasolar harbor extraterrestrial life, scientists need to be able to look directly at the planet itself.  Of course, the light of the parent planet inevitably creates a viewing problem as it drowns out the image.  Now scientists are playing with an idea originally conceived in the '60's by Lyman Spitzer.  They want to build a spaceshade that would be positioned out ahead of the telescope so it could filter out the interfering light.

Now, before anyone offers NASA their used sunglasses so they can save money, it isn't that simple.  The shade needs to be very specifically shaped to avoid the other problem of sunlight bending around the shade to screw up the image.  In short, we're hoping to build a giant sunflower in space.  Wow, that sounds even cooler here than it did in my head.

Scientists are also entertaining other ideas to combat the problem, including coordinating multiple telescopes to cancel out the light or techno-babbly add-ons for future telescopes.

I hope they get this figured out soon, because I really can't wait to see where the aliens might be.

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