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Florida Tech Developed Camera Could Help Find Earth-Like Planets

Florida Institute of Technology’s ‘Charge Injection Device’ experiment deployed outside the International Space Station April 27. Video is 4x speed for the first 90 seconds, and 8x speed for the remainder. VIDEO: Dan Batcheldor

An experiment on the International Space Station could help planetary scientist take a picture of an Earth-like planet outside our solar system. The imaging device is being developed by the Florida Institute of Technology.

The problem with regular telescopes is this: if you point one at a star to find other planets orbiting around it, the star’s light could drown out the relatively dim light of those orbiting planets.

To fix that, Florida Tech is developing a Charge Injection Device. It’s a camera, but it can control the individual pixels in each image. So when it picks up the star’s light, it can stop collecting that data and focus on the less-bright areas around the star that could uncover a planet.

Daniel Batcheldor, head of Physics at Florida Tech, says current telescopes can take pictures of large planets like Jupiter, but the kind of device FIT is working on would have the potential to find smaller ones and “go for that direct image of an Earth-like planet around a sun-light star where we would expect to find a planet most like the Earth itself.”

The experiment, about the size of a shoebox, is testing how the imaging technology works in space. It will remain outside the International Space Station for the next six months.

Florida Tech will continue the development of the technology for both ground-based telescope use or future space-based telescopes after the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

“If this technology can be added to future space missions, it may help us make some profound discoveries regarding our place in the universe,” said Batcheldor.

Earlier this year, NASA announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting around a distant star. The Spitzer space telescope used an infrared camera to measure the size of the planets as they crossed in front of the star.

The imaging prototype launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in March on a commercial resupply mission contracted by NASA. Batcheldor says the experiment was developed for under $200,000, in part due to the commercialization of space launches.

“This is now demonstrating the increased ability for research universities like Florida Tech to get themselves really involved in not just space science itself, but the actual hardware and flying in space, and directly gather data from space.”

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Are We There Yet?' Host

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. Brendan is a native Floridian, born and raised in Broward County. He moved to ... Read Full Bio »