Donated Spy Satellite to Help NASA Find Exoplanets [Nature]

Although NASA is used to making the most of limited resources, it isn’t used to making the most of spy satellites. That’s about to change, as the National Reconnaissance Office donated two spy satellites to NASA, which will modify their spy technology to aid in the hunt for exoplanets. In my latest Nature article, Fresh bid to see exo-Earths, the latest developments about the satellites and general hunt for exo-planets are detailed.

From the article:

The TPF [Terrestrial Planet Finder] cancellation was “a big blow”, says Olivier Guyon, an astronomer at the University of Arizona in Tucson who also works on Japan’s Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, “but it also felt like a challenge to see what we could do with smaller telescopes”. Guyon and others are hoping to meet that challenge with advanced corona­graphs: telescope devices that mask starlight like an artificial eclipse, allowing nearby planets that would otherwise be obscured by the star’s glare to be seen. NASA is exploring the idea of putting a coronagraph on one of a pair of 2.4‑metre space telescopes donated to the agency by the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the US fleet of spy satellites. Although a telescope that size — the same as the Hubble Space Telescope — would be hard-pressed to gather light from Earth-sized planets, it could image and take chemical spectra from planets the size of Jupiter and possibly even smaller than Neptune.

Read the rest of the article on Nature’s Web site.