Scientists ready to study exoplanets: A telescope is under construction that could see alien planets outside the solar system

The telescope's innovative use of technology should greatly boost the number of exoplanets that are directly detectable, revolutionising our understanding of these planets outside of our solar system.

Attention India
4 Min Read

The universe is home to an array of exoplanets, ranging from small, rocky worlds to massive gas giants. More than 5,300 exoplanets have been found outside of our solar system so far, and plans are on to build a new telescope to examine them in greater detail. The Coronagraph Instrument of NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which is expected to launch in 2027, has passed crucial testing, marking an important milestone. This equipment, which uses cutting-edge technology that could greatly increase the number of directly detectable exoplanets, is poised to transform our understanding of exoplanets, or worlds outside our solar system.

Built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, the Coronagraph Instrument has passed a number of rigorous tests to verify that its electrical components work in unison with the observatory’s other components. Feng Zhao, the Roman Coronagraph’s deputy project manager at JPL, was relieved and proud when the device passed the electrical component testing with flying colours.

What is a Coronagraph?

In order to detect the considerably fainter light from surrounding planets, a coronagraph works by filtering out the intense light from stars. Because it enables astronomers to analyse planets’ light, which may carry information about their atmospheres and possible habitability, this technology is essential to the hunt for extraterrestrial life.

What is meant by an Exoplanet?

A planet outside of our solar system is called an exoplanet, or extrasolar planet. Although it was observed in 1917, the first potential proof of an exoplanet was not accepted as such. The finding was initially confirmed in 1992. In 1988, a separate planet was discovered; it was verified in 2003. 5,606 confirmed exoplanets in 4,136 planetary systems are known as of February 1, 2024; 889 of these systems included more than one planet.

Earth-like planets are too bright for current telescopes and coronagraphs to see through the glare of their home stars. By introducing advances that will enable the observation of planets the size of Jupiter and, eventually, more Earth-like planets in future missions, the Roman Coronagraph seeks to overcome this constraint.

The Roman Coronagraph is a technology demonstrator that will test cutting-edge light-blocking methods that are at least ten times more effective than existing ones. The objective is to maximise the instrument’s performance in order to observe difficult targets that may provide new scientific understandings.

The purpose of the latest tests was to ensure that electromagnetic interference from other spacecraft components would not harm the instrument’s camera, which detects individual photons.

The instrument was built to its full potential and operated at full power in an electromagnetically isolated room at JPL. To replicate the electromagnetic output’s expected environment aboard the Roman Space Telescope, engineers measured it precisely and added disturbances.

How the instrument will work?

Even while the Coronagraph is a remarkable tool, it is simply one aspect of the Roman Space Telescope’s goal.

The Wide Field Instrument, the main instrument, will be able to take wide-angle pictures of the cosmos, which will help with in-depth studies of cosmic phenomena and advance our knowledge of dark matter and dark energy.

Separate from the observations made by the Coronagraph, the Wide Field Instrument will find thousands of new exoplanets by monitoring the centre of the Milky Way over a period of several years.

By: Gursharan Kaur

Share This Article
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply