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The WFIRST spaceship will use star glasses to see exoplanets




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NASA / JPL- Caltech / Matthew Luem

By the mid-2020s, NASA will launch the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), one of its tasks will be the study of planets orbiting distant stars, including the direct imaging of many larger planets

Direct imaging of exoplanets, however, poses a major challenge: a planet emits infrared light, but is overwhelmed by the brilliant light of a star – it's like trying to catch the light of a firefly that's nearby flapping a large headlight you must somehow block the light of the headlight.

One of the more ambitious ways to do this is to use a telescope Using a separate thin foil web to eject a star could be blocked while the light is left off the plan. This is the idea behind NASA's Starshade project. But Starshade is still in the idea phase. The logistical orientation of the telescope and the star shadow in space as well as their orientation is an enormous technical challenge. Fortunately, there is another way to block starlight, the so-called coronagraph.

A coronagraph resembles a star shadow, except that it is placed in the telescope itself. The star shadow or "mask" is placed in the light path that goes through the telescope to block the star's light. However, since the mask is closer than far away, there is a blurring effect as the light waves interfere with each other. This creates concentric circles of light and dark lines in the image of the telescope. So you need more masks to minimize them. And you need computer software to improve the images you get, and you need adaptive optics to account for random fluctuations in the starlight. It's a complex system, but unlike the idea of ​​the star shadow that we created and used before. They are an established instrument of ground astronomy. What we did not do is use a coronagraph in space.

In recent years, NASA has conducted a series of tests to ensure that a coronagraph works in space. Recently, NASA announced that the WFIRST coronagraph passed its preliminary design review, meaning that construction of the coronagraph can begin. When WFIRST launches, it will be equipped with a pair of "star glasses" that can block one billion photons from the star to capture a single photon from a planet.

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In the mid-2020s, NASA launches the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which among others Planets exploring the distant stars orbiting the larger planets.

Direct imaging of exoplanets, however, poses a major challenge: a planet emits infrared light, but is overwhelmed by the brilliant light of a star trying to catch the light of a firefly fluttering nearby A Large Spotlight: To see the fireflies, one has to somehow block the spotlight's light.

One of the more ambitious ways would be to use a telescope with a separate thin foil start distance from the telescope, the light from one star could be blocked while the light is being observed by planets.This is the idea behind he's the Starshade project of NASA. But Starshade is still in the idea phase. The logistical orientation of the telescope and the star shadow in space as well as their orientation is an enormous technical challenge. Fortunately, there is another way to block the starlight, which is called a coronagraph.

A coronagraph resembles a star shadow, except that it is placed in the telescope itself. The star shadow or "mask" is placed in the light path that goes through the telescope to block the star's light. However, since the mask is closer than far away, there is a blurring effect as the light waves interfere with each other. This creates concentric circles of light and dark lines in the image of the telescope. So you need more masks to minimize them. And you need computer software to improve the images you get, and you need adaptive optics to account for random fluctuations in the starlight. It's a complex system, but unlike the idea of ​​the star shadow that we created and used before. They are an established instrument of ground astronomy. What we did not do is use a coronagraph in space.

In recent years, NASA has conducted a series of tests to ensure that a coronagraph works in space. Recently, NASA announced that the WFIRST coronagraph passed its preliminary design review, meaning that construction of the coronagraph can begin. When launched, WFIRST will be equipped with a pair of "star glasses" capable of blocking one billion photons from the star to capture a single photon from a planet.


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