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Set Up

The Story itself is suppose to be a Short Animated Movie. The Short goes through the Timeline of the Discovery. Kind of like a Slide Show, just more CG.

The Timeline

It all began on October 24th 1914 when the star Vesta was discovered and measured to be 3,5 Lightyears away.

After the Initial discovery not a lot happened until 1978 when a giant object eclipsed Vesta. Duo to the Mass and Energy output it was decided to classify the Object as a Star. Thus Vesta B was born. The Star itself was renamed to Vesta A.

It was only in 1981 that it was discovered that Vesta B was no star at all. It is a Gas Giant in a close Orbit, that just glows like Hell. The first Exo Planet to be discovered was then renamed from Vesta B to Levana.

Further Exploration of the System revealed few other Gas Giants and also the biggest non Star Object yet to be seen. Osiris with a Mass of 14,5 Jupiter.

In 1985, the USSR launched the Theia Probe. A telescope made to generate Direct Images from the different Planets. The USA launched the LIRA telescope shortly after, with the exact same goal. Both telescopes could see Osiris and Levana but the other Bodies predicted were still to small. In the same year, the USA noticed that a Planet named Vesna wobbled in it´s orbit. The USSR then made an Image of that, as they had a better telescope. It looked like this:

enter image description here

A Combination of Images showed a very big Moon, that was named Hela. What was confirmed though is that at least one of the maybe two Planets probably maybe sort of could have Oceans on it. As well as a very $CO_2$ rich Atmosphere.

In 1990 ESA launched there Vesta Mission which was yet another telescope, but this time, they had a trick. The plan was to use all 3 Devices to Generate Images with a greater Resolution.

This worked out great and Humanity got there first "High Res" Images of the Planets. The main focus laid on Hela & Vesna.

Turly world changing

The Image changed the world. The Planets looked a lot like Earth and a lot of efforts went into creating and Image that was, firstly in Color but also a bit more High Res.

Over the years of 1990 till 2000 Plans where drawn up to Build a giant telescope in space that could take good pictures of the Planets. The LMA, Large Mirror Array, would be an Array of 24 telescopes each with a 15 Meter Mirror inside. In theory, enough to make some good ass photos. The LMA was a international cooperation between the USA, EU and USSR.

Thus, on New Years Eve in 2000 the LMA delivered it´s first Image. And let's just say, it was kind of "The Thing".

enter image description here

Since then, the USSR re-imagined itself to be less Karl Marx and more, open. But this change happened over the last 20 Years, so the Union itself stayed together for the most part. For now at least. The LMA got some fine additions to its collection of telescopes. For example an Upgrade to its Infrared Capability. This combined with other techniques, under these also Direct Imaging, finally in 2005 confirmed that both Hela and Vesna do have Life on them. Although that was already assumed since 2000.

All of this, only for Pictures ?! Let´s just say the World changed a lot. I mean, they got Images like this: enter image description here

The Question

Now this is all well and fine but, what is the Question? How realistic is this Timeline? Are there major problems with the actual events and the Timestamps for the Important events, as I presented them?

If any of you need more detail, I am happy to give some :D

Thank you very much for reading this and have a great day !

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have concerns about scientific feasibility, or just the timeline? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Oct 31 '20 at 4:33
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    $\begingroup$ Just to note that in 1914 the name Vesta was already taken and unavailable to be given to a new star; the minor planet 4 Vesta was discovered in 1807, more than 100 years before your story begins. (Fun factoid: Vesta is the only minor planet which can be seen with the naked eye, of course only in good conditions.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 31 '20 at 7:33
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    $\begingroup$ Today in 2020 we do not have the imaging capability to image an exoplanet as more than a single-pixel speck. Your 1985 image vastly surpasses what we can do today, and even our next-gen telescopes like James Webb aren't going to get multi-pixel images of exoplanets. Hell, Pluto was a barely a couple pixels until we sent a spacecraft there to get a closer look. $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Oct 31 '20 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ I'm also sceptical that achieving anything more a couple pixels of an exoplanet is possible telescopically without using megastructure sized lenses or gravitational lensing $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Oct 31 '20 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ For this star to go unnoticed until 1915 (assuming it didn't just appear), I assume it's similar to Proxima Centauri, an M-class Dwarf. M-Class stars tend to be variable stars , for rapid fluctuations in brightness (possibly an obstacle to life formation), and their habitable zones tend to be close enough to tide-lock planets (which wreaks havoc on the double-planet setup.) $\endgroup$ – notovny Oct 31 '20 at 15:10
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Unfeasible in every way

Let's start to list errors that make it utterly impossible. From the least to the most damaging ones:

1 - Name

4 Vesta was discovered on 29th March 1807. No two planes may have the same name. So you need a different one.

2 - Discovery of Exoplanets in 1985

The first credited speculation of exoplanets was Gamma Cephal Ab in 1988, when the planet was theorized to be there based on the spectrum, and as the data could not be confirmed several times the claim was even retracted in 1992. It took till 2002 to be re-found and confirmed.

3 - Multi pixel photo in 1985

The first photo of an exoplanet was in 2008, and it was this cluster of 1 to 8 pixels (The signal is inside a 3x3 matrix) indicated on this photo: enter image description here Your 14x14 pixels is a resolution of about 25 to 196 times better!

4 - High Res Photo in 1990

The photo above is the best photo we have of any exoplanet. The 'good definition' one you propose is impossible with nowadays tech.

5 - Visibility of surface on the 2000 photo

Impossible! We can't make more than a lump of pixels, how could we see the surface? For comparison: This is the absolute best photo Hubbe made of Alpha Centauri till September 2016 and the left star is below 45 pixels in diameter on a 1280x836 photo - that correlates to 37827 km/pixel at the distance Alpha Centauri A is to us. The resolution might be better but the problem here is the glare from the sun making it hard to see where the surface ends and where the corona begins. Remember, Earth is just about 12142 km in diameter - and wouldn't even make up a single pixel on that photo! In fact, if the earth was in front of the left star, we wouldn't even see it at all.

enter image description here

6 - Visibility of surface features over this distance at all

Let's turn the problem around and look at how large our telescope needs to be to detect something the size of the US from our distance.

The US is about 4000 km wide. Let's place it at 3.5 lightyears ($33,11\times10^{12}\ \text{km}$) away. Now, to see this item, the cone with the US at the one end has an opening angle of $2*\arctan(\frac{2000}{33.11\times10^{12}})=2*\arctan(6\times10^{-11})=1.2\times10^{-10}\text{ rad}=\theta$ [WA]. This number we plug into the angular resolution formula: $\theta=1.22 \frac \lambda D$, assume 400 nm green light and solve for D, the diameter of the optic needed as $D=1.22\frac \lambda \theta$... and voila, the telescope needs to be of a diameter of the same size of the item you want to see!. With a telescope the size of North America, you can see North America at 3.5 lightyears distance as a single pixel - which is what your picture #2 portrays.

The largest telescope to date is ALMA, which can only detect 350 µm at best. So ALMA would need to be 3.5 million kilometers in diameter to get the same 1-pixel north America. Remember: Earth is only 12000 km in diameter. So our 0.02 AU Array needs to be all satellite-based, and we need lots of them to get a good image. And all these radio telescopes in space that make up the array would need to be perfectly aimed at the one spot.

Now, that means that our satellites need to circle around the earth at about 1.75 million kilometers radius. The furthest satellite orbiting earth we have today is possibly Spectr-R, which has a radius of only 329000 km (+-42000 km). In fact, our satellite network would get in trouble as it needs to be placed outside of Earth's Hill Sphere aka Sphere of Influence! We'd need to put it all in solar orbits, and we have barely any satellites in a solar orbit that don't aim to drop into the sun.

To put the array inside the Hill sphere, we could use an array looking at 200 µm, which has only a radius of 1-million kilometers. That's barely within the Hill Sphere, and to get a good coverage, we'd need to have hundreds of thousands of satellites - ALMA uses 66 to cover a 14 km diameter circle, or 6600 m². That's 1 telescope per 100 m². That density is not achievable in space, and even if we only put one satellite per 10000 km², we'd need 314 million satellites, and some will be behind the earth and ineffective.

Conclusion

Totally unfeasible, political landscape excluded.

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  • $\begingroup$ Love the Initiative ! lets make it better. I´ll write a 2nd comment and maybe link you to a PDF if you want that tries to fix the problems. The only question i would have, since your Answer already gave me a lot to work with, is there a set of Equations or rules for the Resolution of an Array of Satellite based Telescopes ? Great Answer ! Really helps :D $\endgroup$ – Erik Hall Oct 31 '20 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ @ErikHall You'd need a radio telescope array barely within the hill sphere, and able to detect about 200 µm radio waves, it needs to be dense enough to get good images, which means hundreds to thousands of sattelites. $\endgroup$ – Trish Oct 31 '20 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ Ill update you :D $\endgroup$ – Erik Hall Oct 31 '20 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ @ErikHall added some oher problem about the array: it'd need to be either super low density (=massively reduced resolution of pictures) or it would need millions of billions of sattelites. $\endgroup$ – Trish Oct 31 '20 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ Note that you might be able to shrink the amount of telescope you need by using a very spread out distributed aperture system or if you're willing to dip into future tech (works in a lab now), a quantum-entanglement based telescopic system might also significantly reduce the amount of telescope needed (arxiv.org/abs/1809.03396). $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Nov 1 '20 at 2:12
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Your Pictures are too good, and not the best way to do it anyway.

There's more to taking a picture of a planet in another system than just getting a big enough telescope. Here's a Link to the best pictures of exoplanets we can currently take, with the best technology. You'll notice the only "direct image" is a blurred red composite shot of a planet 4 times the size of Jupiter. To do better would require hellaciously better telescopes. We're talking on the order of 14+ kilometre lenses, not the 360 meters of your best pic (24 combined 15 meter mirrors). So can you make such a telescope with 90s/2000 tech?

Yes, but really no. You have a cold war still on to some extent. (even if the USSR calms down about being The Leader of the World and gets a rapprochmont of sorts with the US/NATO, that's not enough to lead to peace. Even when the USSR collapsed the US and Russia weren't exactly friendly) The space race was in part a prestige US vs USSR competition to be sure, but it went as far as it did because all the tech had military implications on earth. Rocketry, space stations, moon bases, all that craziness had real-world military applications. Spinning up huge mirrors in space.... doesn't. The theory on how you'd build such massive mirrors and lenses in space existed in the 90s, but there's no reason for anybody to try it. The space shuttle and moon landings had military applications which helped spur their use. A giant telescope... not as much. Because....

You don't need a phenomenally expensive and costly and hard-to-build visual telescope. Let's grant your 1985 results. I doubt you'd get the image you posted, but detecting a wobble and thinking "a-ha, there may be a roughly earth-sized thing in the goldilocks zone!" doesn't seem too far-fethced.

So now what? Well depending on how you want things to unfold you could have them do some exoplanet spectography which determines a lot of water and CO2 doesn't seem hugely beyond the times. There were telescopes doing the same thing for starts since at least 1898. I don't have the dates of when we started doing it for exoplanets (earliest I found was a 2013 journal article which seems about right) but if we thought there was "another earth" as close as your exoplanet it might have spurred the tech/idea into occurring sooner.

However I think the quickest thing to do post-1985 would be to turn a radio telescope that way. From your last pictures it looks like there is a post-industrial revolution civilization on one of the planets, judging by the lights. Though radio/tv broadcasts washes out over fairly short distances, astronomically speaking, it should persist over 3-4 light years. Sentient Alien Life Confirmed, first contact 3-6 years away!

TL/DR Photographing earth-sized exoplanets to the detail of your photos is beyond our current tech, let alone your timeline. However determining that there could be an earth-sized planet via stellar "wobble" could be within the grasp of 80-90s tech, and a radio telescope of that era could likely detect alien broadcasts.

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Imaging issues have been mentioned by other answers, so I'm not going to cover them here. I'm going to take a different tack. I'm also going to assume that everything described in the initial question is natural, rather than artificial, or a sudden appearance of the star for unknown reasons.

Change the star to a G-Class, and the discovery date to Prehistory.

You don't mention the class of star that "Vesta" is. Judging by your discovery date, it seems that you want the star to be discovered about the same time as Proxima Centauri was (Discovered in 1915, by Robert Innes). For that to happen, the star would need to be about as dim as Proxima Centauri is: an M5V Red dwarf star.

M-Class Stars have habitability problems.

Two main issues come to light with your described star system from using an M-Class star.

  1. The Habitable zone of an M-Class star is close enough to tide-lock planets that orbit in it. This results in planets with a light side and a dark side, but it poses a special hazard for your double-planet system -- Over geologic time, the same tidal interactions that are cranking the Moon out in Earth's case would be cranking the twin planets inward towards each other, for a Thunderdome situation. Two planets enter: One planet leaves.
  2. M-Class Dwarfs tend to be highly variable flare stars, resulting in large fluctuations of radiative output over timescales of years. This can do things like burn away an ozone layer and produce a very unpredictable climate for surface life, forcing it to favor extreme hardiness if it ever gets a chance to evolve at all.

The star could be an unusually stable M-Class. The planets could have been moved or constructed by an unknown alien race and set in motion recently. However, another option exists:

The Prehistoric G-Class Option

By changing the star to a G-Class sunlike star, you can put your double-worlds in a habitable zone far enough away from the star to avoid tide-locking, and the star is more likely to be stable enough to keep a regular luminosity output.

That said, there's no way a competent astronomical tradition misses a sunlike star 3.5 light-years from Earth. Alpha Centauri is 4.3 light-years away, and is the third brightest star in the night sky. If "Vesta" is sunlike, it will be known long before recorded history. It won't be permanently obscured by more distant, bright objects, as its movement against the night sky will be noted once good, long-term recordkeeping comes into play, much like Edmund Halley showed in 1718 with Sirius.

If you aren't absolutely wedded to the discovery date, it doesn't strain suspension of disbelief that human history isn't too much bothered by there being a very bright star in the sky that our timeline doesn't have. It will result in there being different Bayer Designations for most of the stars in whatever constellation you wind up putting it in, and it will almost certainly have a traditional name that's from the distant past. It potentially could have prior claim on the name that 4 Vesta current holds, for instance.

You still are going to have the imaging issues that @Trish and @DarioQuint mentioned, of course.

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