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Weekly Space Hangout

May 21, 2022

NOTE: We apologize for the audio issues in this week's podcast. We are working to diagnose and resolve the issues, and we appreciate your patience as we do so.

Gravitational lensing has been used to discover far-distant galaxies that are obstructed from view thanks to the inconvenient positioning of astronomical interlopers. Recently, researchers have begun asking if this same lensing technique could be adapted to use the gravity of OUR SUN to suss out never-before seen details of the more than 5000 exoplanets discovered to date. It is thought that by aligning the sun in a straight line between a space-based telescope and an exoplanet, exoplanet images could be obtained. But this would require a lot of fuel and time.

Tonight's guest is Alexander Madurowicz, PhD candidate at Stanford University. Alex has developed an algorithm that reconstructs an exoplanet's surface using a single, annular image acquired by looking directly at the sun. Light from this ring is then undistorted by reversing its having been bent by the gravitational lens (i.e., our Sun,) which yields the ring of light being turned back into a whole, round planet. This method of imaging exoplanets was presented in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal on May 2, 2022.

Alex Madurowicz is a Physics PhD candidate at Stanford University. His research interests are in astronomical instrumentation, specifically for the direct imaging of extrasolar planets. He works with his advisor Bruce Macintosh and other collaborators from universities around the world on the Gemini Planet Imager project.

The Gemini Planet Imager combines adaptive optics and coronagraphy to correct distortions from Earth’s atmosphere and obscure noise from host stars to directly observe planets which millions of times fainter than the stars they orbit. He has also worked on speculative instrument designs such as star shades and the solar gravitational lens which could revolutionize the future of exoplanet imaging.

You can read more about this technique here.


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