How a Solar Gravitational Lens Could Closely Examine Exoplanets for Signs of Life

Here’s an amazing concept. A natural telescope, made from the Sun’s gravitational field, that could be used to peer closely at exoplanet in search for signs of extraterrestrial life. And we’re talking close observation, to the tune of tens of miles across.

The concept is called Solar Gravitational Lens (SGL) and what seemed like sheer science fiction when scientists began talking about it is now looking ever more feasible.

Researchers led by Henry Helvajian, senior scientist in the Physical Sciences Laboratories at the nonprofit research center The Aerospace Corporation, have now shared the initial results of this ongoing NIAC study on the preprint server arxiv, which have not been peer-reviewed. Though the team cautioned that the mission would need to overcome several technical challenges, it could ultimately answer one of humanity’s most fundamental questions: Are we alone in the universe?

“The SGL offers capabilities that are unmatched by any planned or conceivable optical instrument,” according to the study, which was co-authored by Slava Turyshev, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and principal investigator of the NIAC mission concept. “With its unique optical properties, the SGL can be used to obtain detailed, high resolution images of Earth-like exoplanets as far as 100 light years from Earth, with measurement durations lasting months, or at most a few years.”

Read the rest on Vice.

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