NASA hosts a competition to identify Earth-like planets by designing starshades

The idea of a hybrid observatory that combines a ground-based telescope with a space-based starshade is now the subject of an early-stage investigation by NASA. The starshade is used to reduce star glare when observing exoplanets. The Hybrid Observatory for Earth-like Exoplanets (HOEE) idea aims to aid in the discovery of Earth-like planets by the biggest terrestrial telescopes. Additionally, the space agency is encouraging everyone to participate in this large-scale undertaking.

The Ultralight Starshade Structural Design Challenge is being held by NASA, and it challenges competitors to create a starshade structure that is lightweight and can be included into the HOEE idea. Its design should make it possible to deploy it successfully after entering Earth’s orbit and to bundle it in a little amount of space. Additionally, it should be as light as feasible to allow propulsion systems to alter its orbit while consuming the least amount of fuel and chemical thrusters to maintain its alignment.

Observing the light an exoplanet reflects from the star it orbits is one way to assess its potential habitability. Surface minerals, oceans, continents, weather, flora, and its atmosphere will all have an impact on this light. However, while seeing the planet with ground-based telescopes, the planet’s star frequently creates a glare, interfering with observation. Theoretically, starshades might cover the star in a thick shadow without obstructing the light reflected from its planets.

“The hybrid observatory could assist us in finding the answers to some of the most important queries about extraterrestrial life. Understanding why setups like our own are uncommon and why no place is quite like home would need observation of many other systems. Being able to involve the whole public in this innovative endeavor is quite thrilling. I’m eager to see what concepts they will present,” John Mather, a senior astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, stated in a press release.

The best five entries will each get a reward of $7,000 for the Ultralight Starshade Structural Design Challenge, which has an August 22 deadline for submissions. More information about the contest and how to submit may be found on GrabCAD’s website.


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