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New NASA Space Telescope Optics Offer Look at Distant Planets

New NASA technology offers a look at distant planets that not only are the right size and traveling in the temperate habitable zone of their host star, but also show signs of potential life, such as atmospheric oxygen and liquid water. Research scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., are developing new space telescope optics that won’t just detect planets similar to Earth, but actually take photos of them. To take photos, called “direct imaging,” a new technology will be used called phase-induced amplitude apodization (PIAA).

In development since 2003, it is a proof-of-concept and technology tested prototype that is a strong candidate for NASA's upcoming direct imaging exoplanet missions expected to launch in the 2020 decade and beyond.

The PIAA system uses two specially designed non-spherical mirrors to reshape the light in the pupil of the telescope into a new "high-contrast" pupil pattern. This new high-contrast pupil has the special property of confining all diffraction and glare from the star into a small spot, which virtually blocks all the starlight without appreciably affecting the light from the planet.

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Also: Learn about the design and performance of a wideband radio telescope.