A theoretical new type of telescope could make it possible to obtain close-up views of extrasolar worlds.
To date astronomers have identified more than 5,000 planets orbiting distant stars, however we actually know very little about them because they are too far away to observe closely.
Now though, researchers have put forward an idea for a new type of telescope that could solve this problem by using the gravity of the Sun to magnify objects located in other solar systems.
The method, known as gravitational lensing, is already used by astronomers to study galaxies that are very far away, however the possibility of using it to observe planets has only been investigated relatively recently.
In order to work, the new telescope would need to position itself in such a way so that it is lined up with the Sun precisely situated between it and the planet that it wishes to view.
If everything is done just right, the resulting image would be magnified by an estimated 1000 times, enabling views of distant planets as clear as those we currently have of Mars and Jupiter.
“We want to take pictures of planets that are orbiting other stars that are as good as the pictures we can make of planets in our own solar system,” said Prof Bruce Macintosh.
“With this technology, we hope to take a picture of a planet 100 light-years away that has the same impact as Apollo 8\’s picture of Earth.”
There is one snag, however – the technology needed to put this idea into practice currently doesn\’t exist, which means the gravity telescope is not likely to be happening in the near future.
In a few years, though, once technology has caught up – it could be a very real thing indeed.