Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder will be making a big pitch to NASA officials this week. They will be providing an update on a new space telescope concept that could take pictures up to 1,000 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope.
CU-Boulder Professor Webster Cash describes the telescope as an orbiting space telescope with an opaque disk stretching in front of it. This disk could be up to a half mile across. Check out the image below to get a better idea of what Cash and his fellow researchers are thinking up.
I’ll give them bonus points for thinking outside the box. Space telescopes like the Hubble look a lot like telescopes you may have in your backyard – tube shaped.
Plus, it solves one problem immediately. Cost. If you design a traditional telescope to be even bigger, it’s going to be heavier. The heavier it is, the bigger the rocket needed, the more expensive it is to launch.
Anthony Harness, a CU-Boulder doctoral student, says they “solve that problem by putting large, lightweight optics into space that offer a much higher resolution and lower cost.”
The concept is named Aragoscope after the French scientist Francois Arago. He first detected diffracted light waves around a disk.
What kind of images could we get with this telescope? How about a black hole’s event horizon or plasma swaps between stars? That’s what Cash envisions.
Harness explains how the lens will work on the Aragoscope. “The opaque disk of the Aragoscope works in a similar way to a basic lens,” said Harness. “The light diffracted around the edge of the circular disk travels the same path length to the center and comes into focus as an image.”
Aragoscope Isn’t the Only Concept
Aragoscope was 1 of 12 concepts selected for Phase One funding last summer by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) program. Phase One funding included $100,000 and included other projects such as a robotic submarine for exploring Titan and an orbiting device designed to capture asteroids.
6 of these concepts will be selected for Phase Two funding in April – a two-year, $500,000 reward.
When can we expect to see Aragoscope in action? This is the part that will bum you out. Winning NIAC concepts “are expected to take at least a decade to develop,” according to the press release.
Still, it’s a very cool idea.