Astronomy & Telescopes

Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
February 28, 2020
Filed under
Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission
A meter-class telescope, with a coronagraph to block solar light placed in the string interference region of the solar gravitational lens (SGL), is capable of imaging an exoplanet at a distance of up to 30 parsecs with a few 10 km-scale resolution on its surface. The picture shows results of a simulation of the effects of the SGL on an Earth-like exoplanet image. Left: original RGB color image with a (1024´1024) pixels; center: image blurred by the SGL; right: the result of image deconvolution at an SNR of ~103 per color channel, or overall SNR of 3´103.

We examined the solar gravitational lens (SGL) as the means to produce direct high-resolution, multipixel images of exoplanets.

The properties of the SGL are remarkable: it offers maximum light amplification of ~1e11 and angular resolution of ~1e-10 arcsec. A probe with a 1-m telescope in the SGL focal region can image an exoplanet at 30 pc with 10-kilometer resolution on its surface, sufficient to observe seasonal changes, oceans, continents, surface topography.

We reached and exceeded all objectives set for our study: We developed a new wave-optical approach to study the imaging of exoplanets while treating them as extended, resolved, faint sources at large but finite distances. We properly accounted for the solar corona brightness. We developed deconvolution algorithms and demonstrated the feasibility of high-quality image reconstruction under realistic conditions. We have proven that multipixel imaging and spectroscopy of exoplanets with the SGL are feasible.

We have developed a new mission concept that delivers an array of optical telescopes to the SGL focal region relying on three innovations: i) a new way to enable direct exoplanet imaging, ii) use of smallsats solar sails fast transit through the solar system and beyond, iii) an open architecture to take advantage of swarm technology. This approach enables entirely new missions, providing a great leap in capabilities for NASA and the greater aerospace community.

Our results are encouraging as they lead to a realistic design for a mission that will be able to make direct resolved images of exoplanets in our stellar neighborhood. It could allow exploration of exoplanets relying on the SGL capabilities decades, if not centuries, earlier than possible with other extant technologies. The architecture and mission concepts for a mission to the SGL, at this early stage, are promising and should be explored further.

Slava G. Turyshev, Michael Shao, Viktor T. Toth, Leon Alkalai, Janice Shen, Mark R. Swain, Hanying Zhou, Henry Helvajian, Tom Heinsheimer, Siegfried Janson, Zigmond Leszczynski, John McVey, Darren Garber, Artur Davoyan, Seth Redfield, Jared R. Males
(Submitted on 27 Feb 2020)

Comments: Final Report for the NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase II proposal. 79 pages, 47 figures, 5 tables
Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology (gr-qc); Optics (physics.optics)
Cite as: arXiv:2002.11871 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:2002.11871v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)
Submission history
From: Slava G. Turyshev
[v1] Thu, 27 Feb 2020 01:57:11 UTC (5,660 KB)
Astrobiology, Exoplanet

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻