Tuesday, August 9, 2022

NASA launches ambitious new plan to find signs of life on distant planet

NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts is known for supporting outside ideas in astronomy and space exploration. Since its re-establishment in 2011, the institute has supported various projects as part of a three-phase programme.

However, to date, only three projects continue to receive Phase III funding. And one of them has just released a white paper outlining the task of getting a telescope that can effectively see important fingerprints on nearby exoplanets using our Sun’s gravitational lens. could.

The gap came with funding of US$2 million in Phase III, in this case going to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whose scientist, Slava Turyshev, was the principal investigator in the first two phases of the project.

They have worked closely with The Aerospace Corporation to produce this new white paper, which explains the mission concept in more detail and identifies technology that already exists and needs to be further developed. Is.

However, there are several outstanding features of this mission’s design, one of which is described in detail as the centaur’s dream.

Instead of launching a single large vehicle, which takes a long time to travel anywhere, the proposed mission would launch several smaller, cube-shaped clusters and then embark on a 25-year journey to the Sun’s gravitational lensing point (SGL). will collect.

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This “point” is actually a straight line between any star that has an exoplanet around it and somewhere between 550-1000 AU on the other side of the Sun. This is an enormous distance, far more than the 156 Voyager 1s that Voyager 1 has covered in 44 years so far.

So how can a spacecraft triple the distance, taking about half the time? Simple – it will (almost) sink into the sun.

A tried-and-true method is to harness the force of gravity from the Sun. The fastest man-made object ever built, the Parker Solar Probe, uses the technology.

However, when this is increased to 25 AU per year, the expected pace of work is not easy. And it would be more difficult for a fleet of ships than just one.

The first problem is materials – the solar sail, the mission’s preferred method of propulsion, doesn’t perform well when exposed to the Sun’s intensity required for a gravitational catapult.

In addition, the electronics in the system must be more radiation resistant than current technology. However, there are potential solutions to these two known problems under active research.

Another obvious problem is how to coordinate the passage of multiple satellites through such gut-wrenching gravity maneuvers and yet allow them to coordinate mergers to create fully functional spacecraft.

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But the 25-year journey to the observation point would be more than enough time to actively reconnect the cubic satellite into a coherent whole, according to the paper’s authors.

What this coherent whole can take is a better picture of an exoplanet that is likely to be lost to mankind’s interstellar missions.

Which exoplanets will be the best candidates if the mission goes ahead will be a hot topic of debate, as more than 50 exoplanets have been discovered in their star’s habitable zone so far. But this is clearly not a guarantee.

The mission has not received funding or any indication that it will happen in the near future. Much technology remains to be developed before such a task is possible.

But such missions always began, and they had the most likely impact. With luck, in the next few decades, we will have a clearer picture of a potentially habitable exoplanets than we are likely to get in the mid-future.

The team behind this research deserves credit for laying the foundation for such an idea from the start.

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.

Nation World News Desk
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