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02 Jul

http://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_kasdin_the_flower_shaped_starshade_that_might_help_us_detect_earth_like_planets

What’s the next big discovery?  For some, it is the belief that humanity will come into open contact with an extraterrestial civilization.

How?  Who knows!  There are many ways our cultures could intersect, from transmissions being caught by SETI (a long shot), intelligent life forms encountering Voyager 1 (really long shot), and alien hunting here on Earth (Uhh.. interpretation of data matters here…).

And soon this:

 

Why Earth-like planets?  Using the assumption that our planet’s characteristics is a good indicator of life (see Humans), its a best guess scenario.

Now I’m all for aliens landing on my doorstep however I should note the impact of this phenomenon covers a pretty wide scope.  From an entertainment perspective aliens arriving means a massive global shift, primarily in the form of massive violence or economic and government infrastructures tumbling into chaos.  Finding aliens means no more money based economy!  New technologies!  Alien Oculus Rift games!  Life as we know it would be forever changed at a core level.

And some alternate takes on aliens are:

In other words, a useless vagabond that might eat your cat.

So on one side of the coin, having contact with aliens means a next leveling of humanity’s understanding of the universe.  The other side is (hopefully) making a new friend you can go on camping trips with.

(And unless that alien landed with a big suitcase of money, chances are it’d have no impact on my day to day.  I’d still go to work, put my pants on one leg at a time and possibly be watching the alien version of TED talks.  Ok, so there’s some impact)

The technology Kasdin refers to in his talk is such a commonly used technology that the use of such an invention is pretty ingenious.  Personally I have lifted a hand to block out the sun plenty of times so my natural reaction was ‘build a football field sized blocker?  Why not just add a little arm with a hand at the end of it that blocks out the sun and gives the finger to other drive by telescopes?

The reason is given in the talk, and I’m guessing that it is due to the amount of light vs the fact you’re in freaking outer space.  That and there MUST be a very functional reason to have the flower petal starshade otherwise we would be aiming to use another planetary object as a blocker.

(Note:  I am also ‘too hopeful’ in that regard, in terms that we could use one of the planets in our solar system / telescope needs to be on a space probe / and a really good space internet signal.  After a quick search, I have learned that this is indeed used today, in a method called Transit Detection.  A problem I did not cover, is while in deep space the probability of an exoplanet being an intermediary requires winning a lottery of sorts)

This talk also is a bit enlightening about telescopes themselves.  I always thought that modern telescopes were taking in details on a massive spectrum (beyond the visible) where requiring a photography trick like open shade angling wasn’t necessary.  I’m just open guessing here so it could very well be the ‘blinding effect’ of so much additional light could be doing that across the entire scale.

Open Shade (effectively how we use this technique with cameras) can be learned more about here: http://photographersconnection.com/just-what-exactly-is-open-shade/

So let’s see what we can find on modern star telescopes, petal shaped shades and what not.

FIrst off, NASA provides some additional information on there site

http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/video/15

To summarize… watch the TED Talk.  (Seriously, he covers all the bases)

On the other hand, I cannot find the specs of the telescope or clear mathematical papers regarding the starshade.

On to crude guesswork!

Kasdin mentions that the starshade is required to be of a certain size down to the exact millimeter, which implies a scaling of some kind is in play.  What I mean is use of a frequency based algorithm, where say, the petal blocker is rotating at a measured rotation and the resulting block on/block off data can be used to generate the pictures. (His pictures, were crude computer generated images and I’d have to venture that this telescope is doing the same).

Of course, like I said, all crude guesswork.  Another option is that due to the spacing of each petal being exact, it pleases Photog the PIctureator and he shall bless the telescope with pretty dot images from around the universe.

In looking up telescopes, I stumbled across Astrophotography.  Aka a hobby enthusiasts night passion that has so many subsections it rivals model trains.  I was familiar with the idea but I have never delved into very much.  There is an overwhelming amount of stuff that this blog is way too narrow to contain.  Long story short, long term exposure pictures of the night sky via technology assisted cameras.

And the camera they put on spaceprobes?  Cheap disposable cameras.  They buy them in bulk on those wedding planner sites. To save bucks.

Ok, not true.  However, the answers are beyond complicated as there are multiple cameras with various purposes.  Looking at the image of famous ‘Pale Blue Dot’, it was taken with Voyager’s narrow-angle camera (1500 mm focal length).

Voyager’s cameras: http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/25005/cameras-in-voyager-probes

Voyager itself (just generally interesting but a lot of stuff to read): http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/news/factsheet.html

History of the Pale Blue Dot: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_Blue_Dot

(Just to mention it, I started this around 6pm and now it’s 1am and my eyes have become crossed)

I’m starting to see why Kasdin ended his talk in such an abrupt manner, the details involved are so lengthy that the simple ‘sexy science’ version is much more digestible.

It is a very humbling experience to know that there is so much information out there and all you have to do is look up at night sky to get it.

(Psst aliens, can I get a briefcase of money?)

Get some shade and share,

ED

 

 

 

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Posted by on July 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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