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Surprising Science

Micro-Satellites Could Find Next Earth, Help Mine Asteroids

A new kind of satellite measuring just four inches on each side could help NASA find nearby planets similar to ours as well as examine asteroids for deposits of rich mineral resources.

What’s the Latest Development?

A crack team of MIT students and engineers have designed and built sophisticated satellites just inches in size to help astronomers locate Earth-like planets. Called CubeSats, each satellite measures just 4 inches on each side, making them small and light enough to piggyback onto other payloads. For this reason, and thanks to the satellites’ innovative design, NASA has already given the project a launch date. The satellites “will look at one star at a time, hoping to see a tiny wink when an otherwise invisible planet blocks the star’s light as it moves through its orbit.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The search for Earth-like planets intensified this week when astronomers announced they had detected the first infrared light from the so-called super-Earth, a planet roughly twice the size of ours in the constellation Cancer, just 40 light years away. Another feature of the CubeSats’ design is a combination of star-tracking and telescopic technologies. “Planetary Resources, she says, the company that wants to mine asteroids, is looking for a space telescope to identify good prospects, and the new camera might be ideal for that purpose.”

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