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Intelligent Telescope Design
Alexis Carlotti (staff), Robert Vanderbei (fac) and N. Jeremy Kasdin (fac)
Dept. of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering (MAE)
Imagine a telescope looking at a star. Now, picture yourself with your back to the star, looking through the telescope's masked aperture (displayed here in black and white). In the central hexagon, you would see the image of that star, and around it, a faint object: this is how a planet around another star could look like.

The shape of the masked aperture explains the rather unusual look of the snowflake-like star. This mask is the result of a linear optimization process - an example of intelligent design - that aims at shifting the diffracted light of the star outside an area that surrounds it. This diffracted light usually prevents any faint object, like a planet, to be seen around the star.

This type of mask could greatly help the detection and characterization of the planets that orbit nearby stars.