An artist’s impression of the New Worlds mission. Image Credit: Jay Wong
The question of whether life exists on other planets is one that scientists frequently ponder, but have so far failed to answer. Hoping to change this is the New Worlds mission that, while still in the early phases of development following years of research, is likely to bear fruit in the near future.
One of the problems with observing extrasolar planets is the amount of light emitted by the parent star they orbit. When scientists use a telescope to look deep into space, they find the brightness of these stars drowns out the light from the orbiting planets. They still see the more-intense glow of larger planets, but the smaller ones are virtually impossible to spot. Since those tinier planets are, like Earth, more likely to contain signs of life, it means experts risk missing potential life-supporting worlds.
Dr Webster Cash, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, has devised a method to combat this problem. He proposes using a starshade, effectively a large blocker spacecraft that would be placed between the telescope and the target star. It would prevent light from the star reaching the telescope that ...