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Thread: NASA Is Planning to Find Aliens Using Spacetime Warped Around the Sun

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    NASA Is Planning to Find Aliens Using Spacetime Warped Around the Sun

    Source: VICE


    A solar gravitational lens (SLG) mission "offers capabilities that are unmatched" for detecting extraterrestrial life, according to a study.





    ARTIST CONCEPT OF GRAVITATIONAL LENS AROUND A STAR.



    What if we glimpsed alien life for the first time by peering through a natural telescope made by the Sun’s gravity? This wild idea, known as a solar gravitational lens (SGL) mission, may sound like an Einsteinian fever dream, but scientists have now found that it is “feasible with technologies that are either extant or in active development,” according to a new study.

    An SGL mission could zoom in to see surface features of exoplanets, on scales of just tens of miles, which could provide smoking-gun evidence of extraterrestrial life. It’s no wonder, then, that scientists have speculated about a potential SGL mission for decades; in 2020, NASA funded an investigation into the feasibility of the mission as part of its Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

    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Corporation, have now shared the initial results of this ongoing NIAC study on the preprint server arxiv, which have not been peer-reviewed.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.”

    “Of particular interest is the possibility of using the SGL to obtain images of high spatial and spectral resolution of a yet-to-be-identified, potentially life-bearing exoplanet in another solar system in our Galactic neighborhood,” the researchers added. “The direct high-resolution images of an exoplanet obtained with the SGL could lead to insight on the on-going biological processes on the target exoplanet and find signs of habitability.”





    ARTIST’S DEPICTION OF A POSSIBLE IMAGE FROM A SOLAR GRAVITATIONAL LENS (SGL) TELESCOPE.



    This tantalizing possibility stems from a mind-boggling phenomenon called gravitational lensing, which occurs when massive objects, including the Sun, bend the very spacetime surrounding them. From the right perspective, this warped spacetime magnifies whatever is located behind it, enabling scientists to spot objects that would be otherwise out-of-view, such as distant galaxies or “rogue” planets floating through space with no star. The trippy sights produced by gravitational lensing were recently showcased in the first public images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, which included eerily magnified galaxies in the early universe.

    The focal point of the Sun’s gravitational lens is located all the way out in interstellar space, some 550 and 900 times the distance that Earth orbits our star, which is much farther than any spacecraft has ventured beyond our planet. Helvajian and his colleagues envision their mission as consisting of a one-meter telescope that is accompanied by a sunshade and propelled by solar sails that produce thrust by capturing solar radiation, in a somewhat analogous fashion to wind-propelled sails.

    Even if they were able to overcome the technical hurdles involved with this concept—which include the development of more reliable solar sails and long-duration navigation and communications systems—the team estimated that it would take at least 25 to 30 years for a spacecraft to reach this far-flung location, in the best case scenario.

    That said, if a telescope were able to spot alien life, arguably the biggest breakthrough in science, it would be well worth the long wait.

    “The SGL mission is challenging,” Helvajian and his colleagues acknowledged. “This paper presents an approach to realizing this audacious mission. The potential science return of such a mission would be unprecedented, comparable even to what would be achieved by an actual interstellar mission, which is not achievable with present-day technology.”

    “The anticipated discovery of life-bearing [exoplanets] with the demonstrated feasibility of an SGL mission, should present a compelling case for pursuing this mission,” the team concluded. “It is our only means, in the foreseeable future, to learn details about exosolar sister planets like our home world.”


    Source: VICE
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    Can't quite make out what's going on, but it sounds good.

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    Quote Originally posted by Octopus Garden View Post
    Can't quite make out what's going on, but it sounds good.
    In layman's terms, it's all about making use of the gravitational lensing effect of the sun.

    Anything that has rest mass — or otherwise put, anything made up of matter particles — causes a local distortion of spacetime, and this local distortion of spacetime is what we call gravity. For most objects in daily life — including our own bodies — this local distortion of spacetime is minute, because gravity is after all the weakest of the four fundamental forces in the universe — the other three forces being electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force (which holds atoms together) and the weak nuclear force (which causes radioactive decay).

    However, for very massive objects like planets, stars, black holes, pulsars, galaxies and quasars, the effect of gravitational spacetime distortion becomes sufficiently strong to be able to visually observe it. See, light always travels in a straight line, but if the spacetime itself that light passes through is warped, then from our perspective, the path that the light follows is bent around the gravity well, just as if the light were passing through a lens. Not only did Einstein predict this, but it has in the meantime also already empirically proven to be true, and it was only recently again illustrated in the first ever picture taken of a black hole.

    So, with the sun being the most massive object within our own solar system, the proposed idea here is to make use of the sun's gravitational lensing effect in order to be able to spot exoplanets that could potentially harbor life. However, in order for man-made optical equipment to be able to make use of the sun's gravitational lensing for detecting such exoplanets, said optical equipment would have to be correctly positioned between the sun and Earth, and it would need to be sufficiently shielded so as to avoid light pollution from the sun itself. And that is of course all easier said than done.

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    Hey, thanks so much. I think the hardest part would be shielding from sun's light effects would shield observation of exo planets at the same time. But, who am I to even have an opinion really. It's beyond my understanding.

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