Observing exoplanets directly is a complex matter. A challenge technologically speaking that is impossible for us nowadays. But we could use what we have inside our solar system as a tool so we don’t have to build telescopes with mirrors hundreds of kilometers across. This is where the widely used phenomenon in astronomy known as gravitational lensing comes in.
Gravitational lensing occurs when the gravitational field of a massive object in space warps space and deflects light from a distant object behind it. This results in a bull’s-eye pattern, or “Einstein Ring” that allows us to see what is behind. It was predicted by the famous physicist Albert Einstein in 1915.
Solar Gravitational Lens
Our Sun, being the largest object that exists in our solar system, can be used as the lens of a telescope to achieve incredible magnifications of distant objects. Thus began the Solar Gravitational Lens project.
The project, described in a study that is pending peer review and that we can read on the ArXiv preprint server, increases the chances of finding aliens, if there are any. The Solar Gravitational Lens (SGL) is a NASA project, as part of its Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which funded in 2020 an innovative way to scale distant exoplanets up to 100 light-years from Earth using gravitational lensing.
Since its inception in 2011, NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts has supported many wacky ideas in the fields of astronomy and space exploration. And one of them has just published a white paper outlining a mission to get a telescope that can actually see biosignatures on nearby exoplanets using the gravitational lensing of our own Sun.
With 2 million dollars in fundsthe document explains the mission concept in more detail and defines what technologies already exist and what would need further development.