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Since the transit method of detecting exoplanets requires perfect alignment of orbits, would a Kepler-type telescope yield much more exoplanet data if sent out of our solar system even to relatively realistic interstellar distances (say, 0.1-0.5 light years)?

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closed as off-topic by Frostfyre, Pavel Janicek, James, SRM, Mołot Feb 9 '17 at 21:06

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – Frostfyre, James, SRM, Mołot
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ What sort of an answer would you like? I'm not sure whether this constitutes world building or just physics/astronomy in which case it may belong there instead. $\endgroup$ – Lio Elbammalf Feb 9 '17 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ Almost anything fits the topic description IMO. How about a wording along these lines: "In any setting in which humans or another civilisation set out to discover distant planets and/or civilisations, what advantages can be used to justify placing their telescopes in deep space rather than near their own planet/star, as we have done so far?" $\endgroup$ – user25972 Feb 10 '17 at 16:33
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You wouldn't gain anything by being a few per-cent closer to exoplanets. However, you would gain - or rather lose - something by being further away from the sun:

You would be cold

Being cold doesn't sound like an advantage, but if you're using an IR/Visible light telescope it allows your mirrors and optics to become extremely accurate by removing thermal-warping related errors. The real-world WMAP satellite makes use of a shadow-shield (Giant sun-screen) to keep its optics chilled for very fine readings. Putting your telescope in the interstellar void means you can build a very large, very cool, very accurate, very sensitive telescope, meaning you might be able to directly observe exoplanets.

TL;DR: The colder you make your telescopes, the better they are. The further you are away from the sun, the colder you are. Ergo, interstellar telescope = good telescope.

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  • $\begingroup$ There's the problem of energy input. The further you are from the sun, the harder it is to make electricity. Wouldn't that have impact on your telescope's precision? $\endgroup$ – PatJ Feb 9 '17 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ @PatJ Not really. Optics don't require much power, nor do modern computers. Aside from beaming the data home you won't need much power at all, and even that can be minimized by transmitting on minimum power with a high-gain antenna. $\endgroup$ – UIDAlexD Feb 9 '17 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ @UIDAlexD We're probably talking about the same thing, but just to be sure: "You wouldn't gain anything by being a few per-cent closer to exoplanets." --> Being closer to the planets by a tiny amount of course wouldn't do a thing to help detection. But what I meant was changing the coordinates at which we'd do the observing. $\endgroup$ – VilleJP Feb 9 '17 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ And you could have launched the telescope with a few kgs of antimatter, which would be enough fuel (if used with extreme caution, not to blow the whole thing apart in a gigantic nuclear explosion) for the telescope to function for several millenia. @VilleJP $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Feb 9 '17 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleJP Exactly. I'm saying that by locating your observatory well outside of the solar system you keep it extremely cold and therefore accurate. $\endgroup$ – UIDAlexD Feb 9 '17 at 16:43
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At those distances, you are pretty much still at the same coordinates within the galaxy. Your viewing angle, even for the closest stars, has only changed by a minuscule amount, and for anything farther out it is negligible.

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Objectively it would not matter much where you place your telescope in the galaxy, as it would be closer to some planetary systems and farther from others.

However, there is a very real advantage to sending space telescopes farther away from our solar system. When you want to find planets precisely in that region of the galaxy!

This would appear common sense and simple, but think about an array of space telescopes, all mounted on rockets and each sent 10 light years away from the Earth, in all directions (that is, in 6 directions relative to Earth: up, down, north, south, east west). That way, we could get much, much detailed data about planetary systems in our galactic neighborhood.

A single space telescope, sent away from our solar system would not benefit us in detecting planets in all directions around us.

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    $\begingroup$ This would also allow the use of the parallax method of determining the distance to objects. Rather than having to wait 6 months between taking pictures of the same area of the sky with a paltry difference in location of 2 AU, you could "instantaneously" take pictures of any area of the sky with a difference in location of, say, 100 AU. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Feb 9 '17 at 18:04
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There is a science fiction setting (I'd rather not say which one, because it is a spoiler) where a very long baseline array is built to increase the possible resolution of a sensor, but not the sensitivity. Calibrating the widely separated dishes took ages, of course.

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Yes but not in the way you think.

Moving the telescope slightly closer to the distant target stars would be little help. However, moving the telescope far enough (~550 AU) from the sun that it can use the sun as a gravitational lens would allow fantastic pictures to be taken. In fact, the image would be so greatly magnified (one article on the topic) that the telescope could only fit a few square kilometres or less of a target that's tens of lightyears away into its view.

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Even for space telescopes, what improves resolution are mirror/lens size and image sensor resolution.

Focal lengths play an important part in magnification. Anyone whose taken astrophotography images with a camera hooked up directly to the telescope knows this.

When you start putting in eye-pieces that magnify, it has the same effect that it does for a photographer. The more material you put in front of the sensor, i.e. Lenses, the less focused your image will be at maximum magnification.

I would say that you would have to get pretty far away from the solar system for there to even be a noticeable impact.

Reflectors or refractors, the distance between the image sensor and the lens or mirrors, plus the lens or mirror's size determines magnification and sharpness (what good is magnification if it isn't sharp, the go hand-in-hand).

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