New Technology Helps Ground Telescopes Outdo Hubble

A new technology called nulling interferometry will give some of the world's biggest telescopes the power to detect Earth-like planets outside our solar system—something even the Hubble has not accomplished. Basically, nulling interferometry chains together the light captured by several large telescopes to create a single "super telescope" that has enough power to detect a quarter lying on the surface of the moon. Currently, an array of telescopes in Chile's Atacama Desert known as the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) is being outfitted with a nulling device called PRIMA.

The PRIMA system consists of many small mirrors that are moved by pistons at levels that are smaller than an atom. The light from each telescope is reflected into underground tunnels in a way that cancels out the light waves from a star. What remains is the faint light of an orbiting planet—hopefully a planet capable of harbouring life. Apparently, PRIMA will start hunting down E.T. in about six months time—and according to Fred Kamphues, developer of a major component of PRIMA called a Star Separator, we stand a good chance of finding them inside the next 100 years. Meanwhile, a high-level government official who has had E.T. on ice for the last 60 years is laughing his arse off. [Wired Science]