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Stellar Flash Photography

Don't blink
  [vote for,

Sometime in the (we're not sure how near) future, we are going to get to witness an astronomer's dream event - a supernova. One of the cosmos' top of the line flashbulbs is charging up to illuminate our neighborhood. (Check your dosimeters, people.)

I think that this opportunity should not be wasted. We can get a decent - not huge, mind - space telescope into orbit, set it up with ion drive, and send it off on a course perpendicular to the direction of Eta Carinae.

When the star eventually goes poof, we will be taking pictures as fast as we can, of course; but if we also have a camera out there on as long a baseline as we can generate, we will be able to get much greater depth perception, and accurate resolution of distances. This will enable a better understanding of the 3D distribution of the supernova event. Plus the light from the explosion will illuminate many non-emitting structures not visible to current telescopes.

If we end up waiting several years with nothing happening, that's OK. Improve the design and send another one in the opposite direction. I'm sure we can find something for them to look at.

lurch, Oct 05 2007

Proof of concept http://www.jpl.nasa...fm?release=2008-088
OK, they got the light echoes, now we just need to get the stereo image part. [lurch, May 30 2008]

Light echos... unexpectedly cool http://www.nature.c...ll/nature10775.html
They're looking at echos from the mid-1800's outburst... which was only about 10% of the power of the expected boom to come [lurch, Feb 17 2012]

Early experiments in eliminating competitors... http://oneslidephot...sh-Photography-.jpg
[normzone, Feb 22 2012]


       Assuming we generate a long enough baseline for this ot actually be useful speed of light lag would become a significant issue. Since we don't know where the nova will occur, and would have no way to communicate with the telescope in time to give it instructions, we would have to have a preprogrammed smart photographic approach for the distant telesope, and at that we might still miss a lot of the images. Plus, I would suggest sending the first one perpindicular to the ecliptic and the second at a 90 degree angle along the ecliptic (not in or out). This maximizes the chance of not having one directly in line between the nova and earth.   

       (Also, minor note in this case, soon means sometime in the next 20-30 millenia, most likely.)
MechE, Oct 05 2007

       "i can see my house from here!"
k_sra, Oct 05 2007

       [MechE] - Just as a photographer *does not* attempt to take pictures of the *flashbulb*, this is not an attempt to get a picture of the supernova itself. Indeed, if the sensitive optics were focused on the actual event, they would assuredly be roasted beyond usefulness.   

       After the event (which is not going to be difficult to detect) it is going to be at least a matter of several hours, possibly days depending on how the light curve runs, before it is even safe to point a decent sized lens in that direction. That's when the interesting photography will begin, and will continue for centuries after that. We have been doing autonomous photography with every interplanetary probe we have ever sent; I don't see why it should be a special problem for this one.
lurch, Oct 05 2007

       I doubt there's a high enough density of anything interesting the supernova might light up for it to be very useful source of illumination.
supercat, Oct 07 2007

       I have seen it proposed in science fiction that a nova would be a convenient tool for eliminating competitors. Kind of makes you suspicious, doesn't it?
normzone, Feb 22 2012


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