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Made in the Shade Idea: Imaging Exoplanets

A prototype starshade is a giant structure designed to block the glare of stars so that future space telescopes can take pictures of planets. Credit: NASA/JPL

In the space scheme of things, often times nature suggests a solution.

Take for instance a new approach for snagging images of Earth-like rocky planets around nearby stars.

The “made in the shade” concept takes on the appearance of a giant sunflower.

Given the increasing number of planet detections, worlds orbiting other stars, how best to take a detailed look at these exoplanets?

A prototype deployable structure, called a starshade, is being developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

Starshade specifics

The starshade is designed to help take pictures of planets by blocking out the overwhelmingly bright light of their stars. Simply put, the starshade is analogous to holding your hand up to the sun to block it while taking a picture of somebody.

The project is led by Jeremy Kasdin, a professor at Princeton University, N.J., in conjunction with JPL and support from Northrop Grumman of Redondo Beach, Calif.

The proposed starshade could launch together with a telescope, according to a JPL press statement. Once in space the starshade would separate from the rocket and telescope, unfurl its petals, and then move into position to block the light of stars.

NOTE: Kasdin gave a talk about the project on March 19 and a video of the discussion can be found at:

http://bit.ly/1nHgLhU

Also, go to a JPL-provided video at:

http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/video/15

By Leonard David

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