All over the world, telescopes have only gotten bigger and a lot more expensive with time. But there might be a way to overcome this problem. David Kipping, who works at Columbia University, has found a possible solution. He proposes to use the Earth as a giant telescope lens, using the Earth’s atmosphere for bending and focusing light. When the light from various stars hit the Earth’s atmosphere, light begins to refract or bend.
This bending concentrates light rays by focusing these rays in a space region situated on the planet’s opposite side. If a spacecraft is placed at a proper spot, around 1.5M km away from Earth in an orbit, it could possibly catch these focused light rays, says Kipping. Instruments equipped aboard the spacecraft could collect more rays from various dim objects, otherwise impossible via current Earth-based telescopes. The terrascope, (a name given by Kipping), it might produce ultrasensitive measurements like revealing various features of certain exoplanets, like clouds of mountain ranges.
Kipping presented this concept in a published study that was accepted by the PASP. However, a few scientists are now voicing concerns regarding its merit. Slava Turyshev, an astrophysicist from NASA’s JPL division in California, stated that this concept was infeasible due to a number of factors that range from difficulty in blocking out irrelevant light rays from the Earth to possible image blurring that’s caused by rays entering Earth’s atmosphere at various different heights.
However, others have shown a more optimism regarding this project’s viability. Martin Elvis, who works at the HSCA stated that quite a bit of work remains to be done before it can be known whether the plan would work out or not. However, he is still confident of the project spurring more creative ideas. He stated that even if the project fails, this level of innovative thinking is what will ensure astronomy starts to get out of old linear thinking that a larger version is all that’s required for progress.