One of the great explorations being undertaken by mankind at the moment is the great planet hunt, the quest to find other habitable planets. For the last 15 years scientists have been indirectly identifying exoplanets (planets outside of our solar system), planet candidates that are to be studied further.
Most of the hunt so far has seen planet hunting satellites spotting the twinkle of planets and the wobble of stars. In an effort to directly photograph these planet candidates NASA has developed what is possibly the coolest looking satellite in years. Unfolding like an incredibly sophisticated origami project the NASA satellite transforms to look like a gigantic metallic flower.
Presented for your viewing pleasure is the NASA star shade in action, a work in progress but spectacular none the less. Sit back, relax and hit the big red play button to initiate program.
The sun shade satellite works in conjunction with any orbital telescope such as Hubble, positioning itself between the telescope and star to block the direct light of the star being observed, a process called starlight suppression.
Similar to observing an eclipse starlight suppression may allow direct observation once the exoplanet swings out from behind the star, visible briefly till it passes in front of the star and out of sight again.
While the number of candidate exoplanets identified is in the thousands and the potentially habitable planets identified so far stands at four the search continues, the march of technology sharpening our vision all the time.
The search for life outside of our plant continues in earnest. Along the way the planet hunters will help us to understand our greater worlds, the galaxy and the universe that surround us.