How to Use the Sun as a Telescope

1But there is a catch.

As NASA astronomers peer further and further into space, they require ever larger and more powerful telescopes to do so. That’s why one team of researchers from the Jet Propulsion Lab have proposed using the biggest object in our solar system, the Sun, as a cosmic magnifying glass.

According to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, massive objects will bend the space around it and cause the path of objects traveling within that space– including light itself– to curve. And, under the right conditions, that light can bend just enough that it magnifies the view of space behind it.

As the JPL team explained during a presentation to NASA’s recent Planetary Science Vision 2050 workshop in DC, the observational instruments would need to be stationed 550 AU away from the Sun in order to focus its light accurately. 1 AU is the distance between the Sun and the Earth so 550 AU is smack dab in the middle of interstellar space.

There’s also the issue of the Earth’s orbit. Depending on the planet’s position relative to the Sun and observational instruments, window for observing specific stars or sections of the sky could be extremely limited.

Despite these technical difficulties, the payoff for actually implementing this system would be huge. With the Sun as a gravitational lens, telescopes equipped with starshade technology will be able to see the exoplanet itself.