How this NASA mission could get a high-resolution image of an exoplanet


One of the most exciting aspects of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is its ability to image and gather information about exoplanets. But while JWST will give us tons of information about these celestial bodies, there’s something that it can’t do: take a high-resolution image of an earth-like exoplanet — specifically, an image where we can clearly see evidence of possible life on another world, such as land masses, clouds, and bodies of water.   

Slava Turyshev of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory is working on a solution that would give us a clearer picture of an exoplanet. This method would use a phenomenon called gravitational lensing to capture that kind of an image. Gravitational lensing occurs when the gravity of a massive object, like a galaxy or star, bends the space-time around it. This curvature in space-time acts as a lens, causing the light from objects that are much further away to bend around it and become magnified. When viewed at the right angle and distance, the magnified light will appear as a ring, known as an Einstein ring.

Turyshev’s proposed solar gravitational lens would use the sun as that massive object, magnifying the light of a distant exoplanet in order to construct a high-resolution image we otherwise couldn’t visualize. We sat down with Turyshev to talk about what it would take to reach this goal and how he hopes to achieve it within just a few decades. Watch our video above to see more.