If this will happen it will be thanks to a new project funded by NASA that plans to make a “natural” telescope, based on the property of light to be focused by means of a large mass that acts as a “gravitational lens”.In recent decades thousands of new planets have been discovered beyond our Solar System, the so-called exoplanets. Here you can watch A”gravitational telescope” capable of showing the morphology and surface of exoplanets.
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The search for an Earth-like planet orbiting another star is one of astronomy’s greatest challenges. It’s a task that appears close to fruition. Since astronomers spotted the first exoplanet in 1988, they have found more than 4000 others.
Most of these planets are huge because bigger objects are easier to spot. But as sensing techniques and technologies improve, astronomers are finding planets that match Earth’s vital statistics ever more closely.
They have even begun to use a ranking system called the Earth Similarity Index to quantify how similar an exoplanet is to the mother planet. The exoplanet that currently ranks most highly is Kepler-438b, which orbits in the habitable zone of a red dwarf in the constellation of Lyra some 470 light years from here.
Kepler-438b has an Earth Similarity Index of 0.88. By comparison, Mars has an ESI of 0.797, so it’s more Earth-like than our nearest neighbor. That’s exciting but it is inevitable that astronomers will find planets with even higher indices in the near future.
And that raises an interesting question: how much can we ever know about these planets, given their size and distance from us?
To understand the magnitude of the problem, let’s imagine we want to observe the Earth from a distance of 100 light years.
From such a distance, our planet, which has a diameter of about 12,750 km, subtends an arc of just 3 millionths of an arcsecond: an angle 17,600 times smaller than the smallest detail that a large telescope like Hubble, for example, is able to resolve and show us. And this is without considering that, from such a distance, the weak light reflected from Earth would be completely drowned in the overwhelming glare of the Sun.
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