sci_star_shade_0228.jpgTime magazine’s Michael Lemonick this week reports on competing technologies coming out of Jeremy Kasdin‘s High-Contrast Imaging Laboratorythat could prove crucial for detecting exoplanets — earth-like planets beyond the sun’s orbit that can support life.

One of those technologies, being jointly developed by Kasdin and the Jet Propulsion Lab is a scheme that Lemonick describes as “breathtaking in both its simplicity and its audacity.”

Lemonick explains that exoplanets are hard to detect because the much-brighter light that streams from the stars they orbit washes out the image of faint bodies nearby.

The idea is to block out enough of the sun’s glare so that orbiting planets become visible, much as someone here on earth might hold a hand up to the sky to block the sun’s glare so that the road ahead is visible.The JPL/Princeton team proposes flying a giant “starshade” — otherwise known as an “occulter” — in space, Lemonick reports, “positioning it tens of thousands of miles away from a big orbiting telescope and covering up just enough stellar light to make a planet pop into view.”

Another technology Kasdin’s lab is developing is a “coronograph,” which Lemonick explains would put starlight-blocking technology directly into a telescope. Read the full Time report here.

Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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