One day we might use 'solar gravity' lensing to see signs of life on distant exoplanets, perhaps looking back at us.
Weary in a time of the COVID-19, nothing feels more obscure than the future, as coronavirus updates scroll maddeningly by until the decision arises: to panic, or become one of the lucky ones, the post-blasé masters of distraction for a better tomorrow when, in the full clarity that comes only afterward, we resolve to look once more up to the universe and see who or what else survived catastrophes like ours. And, according to a new study, we may see signs of life on exoplanets with unimagined degrees of resolution.
'Solar gravity telescope' will magnify images of distant planets
More than 4,000 new planets were discovered beyond our solar system in the last twenty years — a testament to 21st-century astronomy — called exoplanets. We've learned a lot about them, but have only observed them as small ambiguous blips of data, such is the distance between us and them.
However, we may soon see oceans and continents on the surfaces of alien worlds — it's also not impossible for signs of life to show up. If it happens, it will be due to the Solar Gravity Lens (SGL) project — a proposal to send a telescope far away from the Sun, using its immense gravitational field to magnify the view of wildly distant planetary systems.
It's on the fringe of possible, but it's also very real.
"Solar Gravity Lens is a unique gift from nature that allows us to do direct high-resolution imaging of faint sources," said project leader Slava Turyshev of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, according to Forbes. "No other techniques allow us to do [this]. Classical instruments cannot compete."