It looks like NASA is deploying its own flag in space to block starlight and take better photos with satellites. That’s the idea at least behind the gigantic Starshade which is still in the conceptual stages but could be something NASA deploys in the future.
The Agency said of the concept, “Although starshades have never flown in space, they hold the potential to enable groundbreaking observations of planets beyond our solar system, including pictures of planets as small as Earth.”
The concept is really simple to explain though the science behind it is, of course, pretty amazing stuff. It involves two spacecraft, one of which is the telescope or “camera” in this scenario and the other spacecraft would control the starshade. Working together, these two craft would find planets and objects outside of our solar system, focus in on them, and take pictures.
As JPL engineer Michael Bottom explains, “The distances we're talking about for the starshade technology are kind of hard to imagine…If the starshade were scaled down to the size of a drink coaster, the telescope would be the size of a pencil eraser and they'd be separated by about 60 miles [100 kilometers]. Now imagine those two objects are free-floating in space. They're both experiencing these little tugs and nudges from gravity and other forces, and over that distance we're trying to keep them both precisely aligned to within about 2 millimeters”
Why is this important for NASA? Well, for pretty much the same reason that we photographers mitigate for excess light to get a better shot.
“Blocking out starlight is key to performing more direct imaging and, eventually, to carrying out in-depth studies of planetary atmospheres or finding hints about the surface features of rocky worlds…Such studies have the potential to reveal signs of life beyond Earth for the first time,” NASA writes on its blog.
There’s an awesome video over on YouTube explaining the whole thing. You can watch that by clicking here.
Also be sure to check out our other photography news stories by clicking here.
And, as always, we’d love to know your thoughts on the starshade concept and in general. Leave them in the comments section below.