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El telescopio de gravedad futurista de Stanford podría obtener imágenes de exoplanetas: 1.000 veces más potente que la tecnología actual

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Una técnica futurista conceptualizada por científicos de la Universidad de Stanford podría permitir imágenes astronómicas mucho más avanzadas de lo que es posible actualmente. Crédito: Alexander Madurowicz

Una técnica futurista de ‘telescopio de gravedad’ conceptualizada por astrofísicos de Stanford podría permitir imágenes astronómicas mucho más avanzadas que cualquiera de ellos en la actualidad.

En el tiempo transcurrido desde la primera[{» attribute=»»>exoplanet was discovered in 1992, astronomers have discovered more than 5,000 planets orbiting other stars. However, when astronomers detect a new exoplanet, we learn relatively little about it: we know that it exists and a few features about it, but the rest is a mystery.

To sidestep the physical constraints of telescopes, Stanford University astrophysicists have been developing a new conceptual imaging technique that would be 1,000 times more precise than the strongest imaging technology currently in use. By taking advantage of gravity’s warping effect on space-time, called gravitational lensing, scientists could potentially manipulate this phenomenon to create imaging far more advanced than any currently available.

In a paper published today (May 2, 2022) in The Astrophysical Journal, the researchers describe a way to manipulate solar gravitational lensing to view planets outside our solar system. By positioning a telescope, the sun, and exoplanet in a line with the sun in the middle, scientists could use the gravitational field of the sun to magnify light from the exoplanet as it passes by. As opposed to a magnifying glass which has a curved surface that bends light, a gravitational lens has a curved space-time that enables imaging far away objects.

Gravity Telescope Reconstruction of Earth

An example of a reconstruction of Earth, using the ring of light around the Sun, projected by the solar gravitational lens. The algorithm that enables this reconstruction can be applied to exoplanets for superior imaging. Credit: Alexander Madurowicz

“We want to take pictures of planets that are orbiting other stars that are as good as the pictures we can make of planets in our own solar system,” said Bruce Macintosh, a physics professor at in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford and deputy director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC). “With this technology, we hope to take a picture of a planet 100 light-years away that has the same impact as Apollo 8’s picture of Earth.”

The catch, at present, is that their proposed technique would require more advanced space travel than is currently available. Still, the promise of this concept and what it could reveal about other planets, makes it worth continued consideration and development, said the researchers.

The perks of light bending

Gravitational lensing wasn’t experimentally observed until 1919 during a solar eclipse. With the moon obstructing the light from the sun, scientists were able to see stars near the sun offset from their known positions. This was unequivocal proof that gravity could bend light and the first observational evidence that Einstein’s theory of relativity was correct. Later, in 1979, Von Eshleman, a Stanford professor, published a detailed account of how astronomers and spacecraft could exploit the solar gravitational lens. (Meanwhile, astronomers including many at Stanford’s KIPAC now routinely use the powerful gravity of the most massive galaxies to study the early evolution of the universe.)

But it wasn’t until 2020 that the imaging technique was explored in detail in order to observe planets. Slava Turyshev of California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory described a technique where a space-based telescope could use rockets to scan around the rays of light from a planet to reconstruct a clear picture, but the technique would require a lot of fuel and time.

Gravity Telescope That Could Image Exoplanets

Video depicting how this conceptual exoplanet imaging technique compares to an existing imaging idea. Credit: Alexander Madurowicz

Building on Turyshev’s work, Alexander Madurowicz, a PhD student at KIPAC, invented a new method that can reconstruct a planet’s surface from a single image taken looking directly at the sun. By capturing the ring of light around the sun formed by the exoplanet, the algorithm Madurowicz designed can undistort the light from the ring by reversing the bending from the gravitational lens, which turns the ring back into a round planet.

Madurowicz demonstrated his work by using images of the rotating Earth taken by the satellite DSCOVR that sits between Earth and the sun. Then, he used a computer model to see what Earth would look like peering through the warping effects of the sun’s gravity. By applying his algorithm to the observations, Madurowicz was able to recover the images of Earth and prove that his calculations were correct.

In order to capture an exoplanet image through the solar gravitational lens, a telescope would have to be placed at least 14 times farther away from the sun than Pluto, past the edge of our solar system, and further than humans have ever sent a spacecraft. But, the distance is a tiny fraction of the light-years between the sun and an exoplanet.

“By unbending the light bent by the sun, an image can be created far beyond that of an ordinary telescope,” Madurowicz said. “So, the scientific potential is an untapped mystery because it’s opening this new observing capability that doesn’t yet exist.”

Sights set beyond the solar system

Currently, to image an exoplanet at the resolution the scientists describe, we would need a telescope 20 times wider than the Earth. By using the sun’s gravity like a telescope, scientists can exploit this as a massive natural lens. A Hubble-sized telescope in combination with the solar gravitational lens would be sufficient to image exoplanets with enough power to capture fine details on the surface.

“The solar gravitational lens opens up an entirely new window for observation,” said Madurowicz. “This will allow investigation of the detailed dynamics of the planet atmospheres, as well as the distributions of clouds and surface features, which we have no way to investigate now.”

Madurowicz and Macintosh both say that it will be a minimum of 50 years before this technology could be deployed, likely longer. In order for this to be adopted, we will need faster spacecraft because, with current technology, it could take 100 years to travel to the lens. Using solar sails or the sun as a gravitational slingshot, the time could be as short as 20 or 40 years. Despite the timeline’s uncertainty, the possibility to see whether some exoplanets have continents or oceans, Macintosh said, drives them. The presence of either is a strong indicator that there may be life on a distant planet.

“This is one of the last steps in discovering whether there’s life on other planets,” Macintosh said. “By taking a picture of another planet, you could look at it and possibly see green swatches that are forests and blue blotches that are oceans – with that, it would be hard to argue that it doesn’t have life.”

Reference: “Integral Field Spectroscopy with the Solar Gravitational Lens” by Alexander Madurowicz and Bruce Macintosh, 2 May 2022, The Astrophysical Journal.
DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/ac5e9d

Macintosh is also a member of Stanford Bio-X. The research was sponsored by the NASA grant NNX15AD95G, which relies on the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) coordination network.

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Astronauta detecta una brillante aurora desde la estación espacial

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Una tormenta solar ha provocado una brillante aurora visible en el espacio.

El astronauta de la NASA Bob Hines filmó la aurora desde la Estación Espacial Internacional el miércoles 17 de agosto luego de un estallido solar moderado.

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Instrumento espacial de CU Boulder para ayudar a determinar si la luna de Júpiter tiene condiciones adecuadas para la vida

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En unos ocho años, un instrumento tubular de oro orbitará Júpiter en una nave espacial y volará repetidamente por una nube de partículas expulsadas de la superficie de Europa -una de las lunas de Júpiter- por pequeños impactos de meteoritos.

Un modelo técnico del analizador de polvo superficial utilizado para las pruebas se encuentra en el Laboratorio de Física Atmosférica y Espacial de la Universidad de Colorado en Boulder. (Matthew Jonas/fotógrafo del personal)

A medida que pasa a través de la nube, el instrumento busca partículas para probar elementos que determinarán si la superficie de Europa contiene moléculas orgánicas o sales o alguno de los ingredientes necesarios para la vida.

El proceso de averiguar si la Europa helada tiene la capacidad de albergar vida parece sencillo, ¿no es así? Bueno, se ha invertido mucho trabajo en la creación del instrumento que agilizará el complejo proceso, dijo Sally Haselschwardt, gerente de pruebas en la Universidad de Colorado Boulder para el analizador de polvo Europa SURface o SUDA.

«Es un director de operaciones tan elegante», dijo Haselschwardt. «En teoría, parece algo muy simple que una partícula entre, golpee (SUDA), golpee algo más y salgan los datos, pero en la práctica ha sido muy difícil debido a los requisitos ambientales. Tenemos un ambiente tan duro alrededor Europa, por lo que tenemos que construir un instrumento superresistente.

El miércoles, científicos del Laboratorio de Física Atmosférica y Espacial en el campus de CU Boulder dieron un primer vistazo a su instrumento, Europa SUDA, que volará en la nave espacial Europa Clipper de la NASA en una próxima misión. El instrumento costó alrededor de 50 millones de dólares.

El miércoles, el gerente del programa SUDA, Scott Tucker, habló con los medios sobre el analizador de polvo superficial.  (Matthew Jonas/fotógrafo del personal)
El miércoles, el gerente del programa SUDA, Scott Tucker, habló con los medios sobre el analizador de polvo superficial. (Matthew Jonas/fotógrafo del personal)

LASP comenzó a trabajar en SUDA en 2015. El próximo mes se enviará para su integración con Europa Clipper, que llevará un total de nueve instrumentos de varias intuiciones de investigación, dijo Scott Tucker, gerente de proyectos de LASP para SUDA. La nave espacial se lanzará en octubre de 2024, pero no llegará a Júpiter hasta 2030.

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“Llevamos siete años en esto (y) todavía queda un largo camino por recorrer en términos de la vida de la misión”, dijo Tucker.

Para recolectar las partículas necesarias para determinar si Europa es apta para la vida, el Europa Clipper volará a 25 kilómetros de su superficie y recolectará material de una nube de polvo formada por pequeños meteoritos que golpean su superficie, dijo Bill Goode, quien tiene un doctorado. de CU Boulder. estudiante que forma parte del equipo de SUDA desde 2018. Los materiales serán probados para determinar de qué están hechos y de dónde vienen en la superficie de la luna.

«Hasta ahora, el único lugar que sabemos que es habitable es la tierra, y el único lugar que sabemos que está habitado también es la tierra», dijo Goode. “Queremos saber si existe o no un lugar además de la tierra donde las condiciones permitan que exista la vida”.

Goode dijo que uno de los otros instrumentos que se adjuntarán al Europa Clipper es un generador de imágenes de alto rendimiento que examinará la topografía de Europa. Este instrumento, junto con otro instrumento que utilizará luz infrarroja cercana para escanear la superficie de Europa, contribuirá al trabajo de SUDA.

«Nuestro instrumento funcionará en conjunto con estos otros instrumentos que observan de cerca las características de la superficie», dijo.

Después de años de trabajo, el equipo de SUDA en CU Boulder ahora está preparando el instrumento para enviarlo antes de lanzarlo al espacio. Haselschwardt, quien se unió al equipo en 2018, dijo que disfrutó su tiempo trabajando en el instrumento y aprendiendo del equipo de científicos calificados.

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“Es una misión muy importante”, dijo. “Es una misión interplanetaria, por lo que es una escala mucho más larga. Estoy realmente agradecido de trabajar en él en una etapa tan temprana de mi carrera, así que realmente puedo ver todo lo que saldrá de él en el futuro.

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Luna descubierta alrededor del asteroide Polymele por el equipo Lucy de la NASA

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Lucy explorará los asteroides troyanos de Júpiter, que se cree que son «fósiles formadores de planetas». Crédito: Centro de Vuelo Espacial Goddard de la NASA

Incluso antes de su lanzar en octubre de 2021,[{» attribute=»»>NASA’s Lucy mission was already on course to break records by visiting more asteroids than any previous mission. Now, the mission can add one more asteroid to the list, after a surprise result from a long-running observation campaign.

Lucy’s science team discovered on March 27 that the smallest of the mission’s Trojan asteroid targets, Polymele, has a satellite of its own. On that day, Polymele was expected to pass in front of a star. This would allow the team to observe the star blink out as the asteroid briefly blocked, or occulted, it. The Lucy team planned to measure the location, size, and shape of Polymele with unprecedented precision while it was outlined by the star behind it. To do so, they spread 26 teams of professional and amateur astronomers across the path where the occultation would be visible.

Asteroid Polymele

A graphic showing the observed separation of asteroid Polymele from its discovered satellite. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

These occultation campaigns have been enormously successful in the past, providing valuable information to the mission on its asteroid targets, but this day would hold a special bonus.

We were thrilled that 14 teams reported observing the star blink out as it passed behind the asteroid. However, as we analyzed the data, we saw that two of the observations were not like the others,” said Marc Buie, Lucy occultation science lead at the Southwest Research Institute, which is headquartered in San Antonio. “Those two observers detected an object around 200 km (about 124 miles) away from Polymele. It had to be a satellite.”

Trojan Asteroid Polymele and Satellite

A graphic showing the observed separation of asteroid Polymele from its discovered satellite. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Using the occultation data, the scientists determined that this satellite is roughly 3 miles (5 km) in diameter, orbiting Polymele, which is itself around 17 miles (27 km) along its widest axis. The observed distance between the two bodies was approximately 125 miles (200 km).

Following planetary naming conventions, the satellite will not be issued an official name until the team can determine its orbit. As the satellite is too close to Polymele to be clearly seen by Earth-based or Earth-orbiting telescopes – without the help of a fortuitously positioned star – that determination will have to wait until Lucy approaches the asteroid in 2027, unless the team gets lucky with future occultation attempts before then.

At the time of the observation, Polymele was 480 million miles (770 million km) from Earth. Those distances are roughly equivalent to finding a quarter on a sidewalk in Los Angeles – while trying to spot it from a skyscraper thousands of miles away in Manhattan.

Satellite Orbiting Polymele

Using the occultation data, the team assessed that this satellite is roughly 3 miles (5 km) in diameter, orbiting Polymele, which is itself around 17 miles (27 km) along its widest axis. The observed distance between the two bodies was about 125 miles (200 km). Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Asteroids hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system – perhaps even the origins of life. Solving these mysteries is a high priority for NASA. The Lucy team originally planned to visit one main belt asteroid and six Trojan asteroids, a previously unexplored population of asteroids that lead and follow Jupiter in its orbit around the Sun. In January of 2021, the team used the Hubble Space Telescope to discover that one of the Trojan asteroids, Eurybates, has a small satellite. Now with this new satellite, Lucy is on track to visit nine asteroids on this remarkable 12-year voyage.

“Lucy’s tagline started out: 12 years, seven asteroids, one spacecraft,” said Lucy program scientist Tom Statler at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We keep having to change the tagline for this mission, but that’s a good problem to have.”


El 9 de enero de 2020, la misión Lucy anunció oficialmente que no visitaría siete, sino ocho asteroides. Resulta que Eurybates, uno de los asteroides en el camino de Lucy, tiene un pequeño satélite. Poco después de que el equipo de Lucy descubriera el satélite, este y Eurybates se colocaron detrás del Sol, lo que impidió que el equipo siguiera observando. Sin embargo, los asteroides surgieron detrás del Sol en julio de 2020 y, desde entonces, el equipo de Lucy ha podido observar el satélite con el Hubble en varias ocasiones, lo que le permitió al equipo definir con precisión la órbita del satélite y permitir que el pequeño satélite finalmente obtenga una imagen oficial. nombre – Queta.

La investigadora principal de Lucy tiene su sede en Boulder, Colorado, una sucursal del Southwest Research Institute, con sede en San Antonio, Texas. El Centro de Vuelo Espacial Goddard de la NASA en Greenbelt, Maryland, proporciona gestión general de la misión, ingeniería de sistemas y seguridad y garantía de la misión. Lockheed Martin Space en Littleton, Colorado construyó la nave espacial. Lucy es la misión número 13 del programa Discovery de la NASA. El Centro de Vuelo Espacial Marshall de la NASA en Huntsville, Alabama, administra el Programa Discovery para la Dirección de Misiones Científicas de la agencia en Washington.

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