AAS 197, January 2001
Session 49. The Formation, Evolution and Detection of Habitable Planets
Display, Tuesday, January 9, 2001, 9:30am-7:00pm, Exhibit Hall

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[49.06] Astronomical Observations with Occulting Satellites

G.D. Starkman, C.J. Copi (Case Western Reserve University)

The standard approach to achieving higher resolution, observing fainter sources and achieving greater brightness contrast has been to build bigger telescope mirrors. However, on the ground this approach presents increasingly difficult technological, logistical and financial challenges. In space these difficulties are even more challenging. Here we present the case for one alternative -- steerable occulting satellites -- as a viable approach to extending these observational frontiers. Transits by natural bodies have long been used to obtain high resolution and high contrast information about the occulted sources. An artificial occulter would have considerable advantages in terms of steerability, long duration of transit, and occulter brightness. A steerable occulting satellite, in conjunction with a post-HST-class optical space telescope could be used at wavelengths below 1-2 microns to image Earth-like planets around nearby stars, and to characterize their atmospheres using low-resolution spectroscopy. As well sub-milli-arcsecond resolution could be obtained on bright optical sources. A similar satellite could also be used to achieve photon-limited resolution in conjunction with an X-ray telescope.

This work supported by grants from the NSF and DOE, and by a JPL contract to TRW.

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