The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is launching a highly ambitious programme called Starshade. Under the Starshade programme, the agency seeks to develop highly sophisticated procedures that it can use to monitor and take images of distantly-located planets, also called exoplanets.

This programme, which comes at a time when NASA has been showing concerted efforts to see deep into space, is likely to be of great significance to the activities of NASA. Here are details about the NASA Starshade project and how it will help us to see more into space.

What is NASA Starshade?

This is a project to view and take pictures of planets that are outside our solar system. Space is made up of an unknown number of galaxies (these are groups of important stars with bodies rotating within their magnetic spheres of influence). For long, astronomers have been trying to figure out how small planets that may be similar to earth but are located deep into space behave.

For astronomers to find out about this, they need to not only visualise the exoplanets but also take their pictures. The NASA Starshade is a complex project under which NASA is using highly sophisticated equipment and procedures to successfully view and photograph exoplanets.

Why is the NASA Starshade Necessary?

When attempting to observe distantly-located planets, astronomers often have to grapple with the light that distant stars emit. Usually, planets emit very little light (they reflect the light that they receive from their stars around which they revolve). However, stars usually emit their own light.

Therefore, when astronomers attempt to view and photograph distant planets, they are confronted by the problem of very bright rays of light from the stars. The bright light from stars makes it difficult for astronomers to focus their telescopes on the exoplanets.

How does the NASA Starshade Work?

The Starshade positions itself between the telescope that the NASA astronomers are using to observe the distant planets and the star around which the astronomers are looking for exoplanets. Using this sophisticated technology, the NASA scientists are able to accurately observe and even photograph exoplanets for two main reasons.

First, the Starshade effectively blocks all the excess light that the stars produce, thus dimming the field of vision of the space telescopes that the scientists use. Second, the flower-based shape of the Starshade controls the rays of light that reach the space-based telescopes that the scientists use, thus making it easy for the scientist to photograph exoplanets.

What are the Challenges Associated with the NASA Starshade?

Interestingly, there are several challenges that NASA is experiencing when using this technology. The first challenge is associated with positioning the instrument accurately so that astronomers can observe exoplanets accurately. Engineers at NASA are concerned with the risk of failing to align the instrument perfectly.

If the trajectory of the instrument is not perfect, scientists will not be able to achieve their objective of using it in the first place. The second challenge is associated with the functioning of the Starshade. It is possible for the petals of the Starshade to fail to open up perfectly when they are required to do so. Therefore, NASA engineers are always concerned about these two challenges.

In conclusion, the NASA Starshade is a revolutionary instrument that NASA intends to use to change the manner in which its scientists observe and photograph distantly-located planets. The Starshade blocks excess light rays from stars, thus effectively allowing astronomers to observe and photograph exoplanets.

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