recommended reading

Video: Inside This NASA Technology That Blocks Starlight

This world is the first Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone of a sun-like star. The planet is 60 percent larger than Earth and 5 percent farther from its parent star than Earth is from the sun.

This world is the first Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone of a sun-like star. The planet is 60 percent larger than Earth and 5 percent farther from its parent star than Earth is from the sun. // NASA JPL

How do you block starlight? To block light from our own star, the sun, we use sunglasses, hats and umbrellas. But for stars many light years away from us, NASA researchers must come up with different methods. 

Blocking starlight is important for studying planets (and the potential life on them) that revolve around distant but very bright stars.

One method under construction at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is Starshade. Named appropriately, this device is its own spacecraft about the size of a baseball diamond that orbits thousands of miles in front of the telescope to block the starlight, letting the telescope clearly capture the planets orbiting the star.

Another option is the coronagraph, a small piece, no bigger than an inch, that fits within the lens of the telescope's camera and helps block the light that way.

"We're trying to develop the technology to be able to look for life on other planets," said Nick Siegler, chief technologist of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program. "The hard part is blocking the light from the star. Once we do that, we have other technologies that are much more mature and will be in a better position to look for evidence of life."

To learn more, check out the video below from NASA: 

By Caitlin Fairchild May 4, 2016

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov