It looks like the Hubble Space Telescope could have some competition. Researchers at the University of Colorado will update NASA this week on the Aragoscope, their space telescope concept that could potentially provide images that are up to 1,000 times sharper than those from Hubble, according to a CU-Boulder press release.
The telescope was one of 12 proposals chosen for Phase One funding last June by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) program. The program was established to make possible pioneering ideas that would normally be reserved for science fiction. Selected NIAC proposals are awarded $100,000 for a nine-month period. Phase Two funding will be awarded in April, which means six Phase One concepts will receive $500,000 in funding over two years.
The CU-Boulder telescope is named after Francois Arago, the French scientist who was the first to detect diffracted light waves around a disk. The name is particularly fitting given that the Aragoscope would consist of a half-mile-wide opaque disk in front of the orbiting telescope. According to Webster Cash, professor at CU-Boulder’s Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, diffracted light waves emitted from an object like a star would bend around the disk and converge around a central point. This diffracted light would feed into the Aragoscope, providing high-res images.
“Traditionally, space telescopes have essentially been monolithic pieces of glass like the Hubble Space Telescope,” CU-Boulder doctoral candidate Anthony Harness said in the release. “But the heavier the space telescope, the more expensive the cost of the launch. We have found a way to solve that problem by putting large lightweight optics into space that offer a much higher resolution and lower cost.”
The range of Aragoscope’s imaging abilities would be very wide. The telescope could potentially give researchers an unprecedented glimpse at objects like a black hole “event horizon,” as well as point to Earth and zero in on objects as small as a rabbit.