NASA scientists and researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, have perfected plans to construct a revolutionary space telescope that is capable of taking images that are 1,000 times sharper than what the Hubble Space Telescope is capable of processing.
The proposed space telescope will orbit the Earth, and it will consist of an opaque disk in front and capable of bending lights to converge on its central point, the converged light would then be fed into the orbiting telescope to yield high-resolution images.
According to Professor Webster Cash of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy of the University of Colorado, Boulder, the new telescope concept is named the “Aragoscope” after French scientist Francois Arago who first detected diffracted light waves around a disk. The telescope will also allow scientists to image space objects like black hole “event horizons” and plasma swaps between stars. The novel telescope system also could point toward Earth and image objects as small as a rabbit, giving it the ability to hunt for lost campers in the mountains.
According to CU-Boulder doctoral student, Anthony Harness of the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, who is working with Cash on the project, ‘Traditionally, space telescopes have essentially been monolithic pieces of glass like the Hubble Space Telescope. “But the heavier the space telescope, the more expensive the cost of the launch. We have found a way to solve that problem by putting large, lightweight optics into space that offer a much higher resolution and lower cost.”
Made of a strong, dark, plastic-like material that could be launched in a compressed fashion like a parachute, the opaque space disk will then unfurl in orbit. And then, the space shield would be tethered to the telescope at distances from tens to hundreds of miles depending on the size of the disk, said Harness.
“The opaque disk of the Aragoscope works in a similar way to a basic lens,” said Harness. “The light diffracted around the edge of the circular disk travels the same path length to the center and comes into focus as an image.”
However, since image resolution increases with telescope diameter, being able to launch such a large, yet lightweight disk would allow astronomers to achieve higher-resolution images than with smaller, traditional space telescopes. Cash and Harness are planning to hold an astronomical demonstration of the Aragoscope idea within the lab by using a 1-meter disk placed several meters from a telescope.
According to them, the light source would be placed about 5 or 10 meters behind the disk. The team also hopes to test the starshade concept by fixing a space disk on a mountaintop and attaching a telescope on a hovering aircraft in order to image Alpha Centauri, a binary star system that appears as the third brightest star in the sky.