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Cryptocurrency Bitcoin To Study the Next Earth, NASA May Need to Throw Some Shade


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Cryptocurrency Bitcoin To Study the Next Earth, NASA May Need to Throw Some Shade

Coronagraphs, which are inside a telescope, block the glare of a far-off sun using a set of specially designed “masks” and a pair of deformable mirrors. First, the mirrors “clean up” the beam of light. Then the masks (which, Bolcar says, place “a little dot right over the image of a star”) reject the sunlight,…

Cryptocurrency  Bitcoin To Study the Next Earth, NASA May Need to Throw Some Shade

Cryptocurrency Bitcoin

Coronagraphs, which are inside a telescope, block the glare of a far-off sun using a set of specially designed “masks” and a pair of deformable mirrors. First, the mirrors “clean up” the beam of light. Then the masks (which, Bolcar says, place “a little dot right over the image of a star”) reject the sunlight, and an instrument in the back of the telescope collects the image. Ideally, the sunlight is blocked, but not the light from the orbiting exoplanet.

In the lab, high-contrast coronagraphs have approached 10-10 contrast, but they still need improvement; in space they’ll require an incredibly stable telescope. Lower-contrast coronagraphs have been working in space for decades. Hubble has a low-contrast coronagraph, and the James Webb Space Telescope’s coronagraph will hit around 10-5 suppression thanks in part to its very own integrated sunshade, which it is currently deploying. Future versions, like the one slated to be used on the Roman telescope, are intended to spot exoplanets at around 10-8 contrast, two factors of brightness and clarity lower than what is currently called for in the Hubble replacement mission.

The star shade is a less proven option, but it has a big potential upside. “Star shades can open up a whole new way of investigating exoplanets—for potentially much less than a brand-new space telescope such as JWST,” or the James Webb Space Telescope, Paul Byrne, a planetary geologist at North Carolina State University, told WIRED by email. “The ability to directly image an exoplanet, and perhaps even to gain information about its surface (brightness, evidence for oceans, etc.) would go a very long way toward turning specks of light, or squiggles on a graph, into real worlds in their own right.”

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In 1962, astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer described a method in which “a large occulting disk” could be placed far in front of a telescope to reduce the glare from a star and make it easier to see nearby planets. Today, scientific advancements have allowed astrophysicists to envision a star shade about 25 to 75 meters in diameter, which would fly some 50,000 miles in front of a telescope and unfold like origami into a circular “sunflower” shape—a central circle surrounded by petals. (Spitzer described such petals as “sharp spikes” that could be used to make the shadow behind the shade “much blacker.”)


The telescope sits right on the edge of the sunflower’s shadow, where the petals bend and diffract the few photons of light that get through. Obscuring and diffracting light waves works kind of like blocking moving water. “Imagine putting a wall-like obscuration in the middle of a stream,” says Manan Arya, a technologist with the Advanced Deployable Structures group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The water is not going to infinitely diverge and create a long dry spot in the stream bed. The water is going to bend around that obstacle, creating ripples. Some of those ripples will add up into bigger waves, way downstream of that wall I’ve put in the stream. A star shade is a perfectly-shaped wall in a river that, far downstream, creates a tiny patc

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