Scientists have developed a new telescope chip that allows astronomers to have a clear view of alien planets that may support life, by cancelling out excess light from the Sun and other host stars.
Seeing a planet outside the solar system which is close to its host sun is very difficult with today’s standard astronomical instruments due to the brightness of the Sun. The new chip removes light from the host sun, allowing astronomers for the first time to take a clear image of the planet, according to Steve Madden, associate professor from The Australian National University (ANU).
“The ultimate aim of our work with astronomers is to be able to find a planet like Earth that could support life,” said Madden from the ANU. “To do this we need to understand how and where planets form inside dust clouds, and then use this experience to search for planets with an atmosphere containing ozone, which is a strong indicator of life,” he said.
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Madden said the optical chip worked in a similar way to noise cancelling headphones. “This chip is an terferometer that adds equal but opposite light waves from a host sun which cancels out the light from the Sun, allowing the much weaker planet light to be seen,” he said.
PhD student Harry-Dean Kenchington Goldsmith, who built the chip, said the technology works like thermal imaging that fire fighters rely on to see through smoke. “The chip uses the heat emitted from the planet to peer through dust clouds and see planets forming,” said Kenchington Goldsmith. “Ultimately the same technology will allow us to detect ozone on alien planets that could support life,” he added.