How 'Starshades' Could Aid Search for Alien Life
... Leonard David -- " The next step in the exoplanet revolution may be an in-space "starshade" that lets alien worlds step out of a blinding glare.
Researchers are testing designs for a starshade, which would fly in formation with a future space-based telescope. The starshade, also known as an "external occulter," would block the light from a star while allowing the scope to spot emissions from much dimmer orbiting planets.
Scientists are conducting desert tests of the technology on Earth. They're using the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona to model a starshade's ability to help future instruments find and characterize rocky, Earth-like alien worlds.
A starshade may be used on NASA's potential Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a space-based instrument that would feature a primary mirror 8 feet (2.4 meters) wide, the same size as that of the agency's iconic Hubble Space Telescope.
Several years ago, the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) donated two space telescopes to NASA. In 2013, the space agency announced it hoped to use one of these scopes for WFIRST. That move spurred anticipation in the U.S. astronomical community for Hubble-quality imaging over an area of sky 100 times larger than that viewed by Hubble. This version of the mission is called WFIRST-AFTA (for "Astrophysics-Focused Telescope Assets").
The WFIRST-AFTA mission would carry out exoplanet exploration, dark energy research, and galactic and extragalactic surveys. ..."