The “terrascope” would use a space detector to collect refracted light

Scales are getting bigger and more expensive. But what if there was a better way? An astronomer suggested a possible solution: turn the entire earth into a telescope lens by using the planet’s atmosphere to bend and focus the light. When light from stars hits the Earth’s atmosphere, the light bends or breaks. This bend concentrates the rays and focuses them in a space area on the opposite side of the planet. Place a spaceship in the right place – for example, in a 1.5 million-kilometer orbit around the Earth – and it could capture the focused beams, says David Kipping of Columbia University (SN: 10/14/17, p Instruments aboard the vehicle may be able to collect more light from dark objects than current telescopes on Earth allow. That is, the terrascope, as Kipping calls it, could possibly perform ultrasensitive measurements, for example, to uncover new features of exoplanets, such as mountains or clouds. Kipping outlined the idea in a study published in publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. But some scientists question its merits. The astrophysicist Slava Turyshev of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, suspects that the concept is impracticable for a variety of reasons, from the difficulty of blotting out unwanted light from the earth to the potential fuzziness of images caused by light entering the atmosphere at different temperatures.Others are more optimistic. “Obviously, there’s a lot to do before we know if it will work,” says Martin Elvis of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “Even though this nice idea does not work out, this is the kind of creative thinking which brings astronomy out of the linear trap of wanting a bigger version of what we already have. ”