Asteroid mining telescopes could take high-res exoplanet pics

As part of its plan to harvest asteroids, Plantary Resources is going to be launching a [insert collective noun for telescopes here] of space telescopes. Whenever they're not busy finding asteroids made of solid gold, we might be able to use them to snap actual pictures of exoplanets around other stars.

To take a picture of a planet around a star about 10 or 20 light years away, you'd need an astonishingly large telescope. Or, you'd need a large number of much smaller telescopes working together. The latter hasn't really been an option before, because who in their right mind is going to send a large number of self-powered optical telescopes into space all at the same time, but apparently that's just exactly what newly minted asteroid mining company Planetary Resources is going to do.

If a bunch of these telescopes (they'll be called Arkyd 200s) can work together to make observations of the same target at the same time, it would form what's called a hypertelescope, which would offer about the same resolution as a single giant telescope of the same size, while sacrificing light-collecting ability. According to Next Big Future, if 150 optical telescopes spread out over 100 kilometers (each with a three-meter mirror) cooperated to view an exoplanet target at 10 light years, a 30-minute exposure would result in an image that looks like this:


And if you were to bump the spread of the array to 1,500 kilometers, there's the potential for a resolution as good as 10 kilometers (with a commensurate increase in exposure time), which is easily enough to resolve different biomes and potentially urban areas.

Planetary Resources probably doesn't have exoplanet hunting at the top of its list of things to do with its telescopes, but it has stated that science (and even public accessibility) are on there somewhere. Our guess is that by the time enough Arkyd 200s have been launched for form a hypertelescope (in the 2020s), if we've found a good exoplanet candidate by then, it won't be too hard to convince Planetary Resources that it's worth trying to get a picture of it.

Via Next Big Future

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