Small telescope beyond Saturn could trump giant telescopes near Earth

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In 2011, scientists used a camera on the EPOXI mission in the asteroid belt to find and weigh a Object the size of Neptune floating freely among the stars of the Milky Way. Only a few rogue planets have been found, but astronomers suspect they are very common and may hold clues to the formation of solar systems and prevalence of planets around stars.

But perhaps the most interesting use of a telescope in the Outer Solar System would be the possibility of using the gravitational field of the Sun itself as a giant lens. This type of measurement can allow astrophysicists to map planets in other star systems. Maybe one day we can name continents on an Earth-like planet around a distant star.

Coming soon?

Since Pioneer 10 became the first man-made object to pass through Jupiter’s orbit in 1973, only a few astrophysical studies have been done beyond Earth’s orbit. Missions to the outer solar system are rare, but many teams of scientists are doing studies to show how an extrasolar telescope project would work and what we could learn from it.

Every 10 years or so, leaders in astrophysics and astronomy come together to set goals for the next decade. This plan for the 2020s is expected to be released on November 4, 2021. I expect to see discussions about the next telescope that could revolutionize astronomy. Taking a telescope into the Outer Solar System, while ambitious, is well within the technological capabilities of NASA or other space agencies. I hope that one day soon, a small telescope on a solitary mission in the dark areas of the solar system will provide us with incredible information about the universe.


This story was originally published with The conversation. Read the original here.


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