The Super Hubble

Scott Badger (
Tue, 9 Mar 1999 23:08:22 -0600

Interesting project. Complete article (brief as it is) located at:

Scientists weigh interstellar flight

Preliminary plan calls for sending a telescope far beyond Pluto.

By Alan Boyle

March 9 — Scientists are drawing up plans for what might be called an interstellar “Super-Hubble” telescope. The plans call for a robot-controlled, nuclear-powered cruiser to tow an observatory 50 billion miles or more away from Earth. The challenges involved in turning the concept into reality are ... well, astronomical. But that doesn’t faze the idea’s backers. “We’re on the first steps of investigating how we take our first steps,” says physicist Roger Lenard.



All this begs the big question: Why do it? The Hubble Space Telescope captured this infrared image of an "Einstein ring," a classic example of a gravitational lens. The bright spot in the middle is a massive galaxy that has bent the light from an even more distant galaxy, B1938+666, to form a ringlike pattern.

The researchers say 50 billion miles is a magic number because at that point the sun can be used as a “gravitational lens”: The sun’s gravitational influence would bend light rays to a focus, greatly amplifying the power of a telescope. Lenard said an instrument at the right lensing point could observe faint objects at the universe’s farthest reaches, and even solar systems within distant galaxies.

There are other reasons to get out of the solar system: A distant probe would have a view unobscured by the dust that surrounds the sun and planets. The farther you get from Earth, the easier it would be to create a three-dimensional map of all the stars in our galaxy.