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Ever since the first human ancestors turned their eyes upwards towards the canopy of light shining in the night sky, we couldn’t help but wonder about the other worlds out there and what secrets they might hold. Are we alone in the Universe, or are there other living planets out there? Is Earth unique, with a saturated biosphere where practically every ecological niche is occupied, or is that a common occurrence? Are we rare in having had life sustain itself and thrive for billions of years, or are there many such planets like our own? And are we the only intelligent, technologically advanced species out there, or are there others for us to potentially communicate with?

For countless millennia, these have been questions that we’ve only been able to speculate about. But here, in the 21st century, we finally have the technology to begin answering these questions in a scientific fashion. We’ve already discovered more than 5000 exoplanets: planets in orbit around stars other than our own Sun. In the 2030s, NASA will likely design and build a telescope capable of determining if any of the nearest Earth-sized exoplanets to us are actually inhabited. And with future technology, we may even be able to image aliens directly.

 But recently, an even wilder proposition was put forth: to use the Sun’s gravity to image a potentially inhabited planet, producing a high-resolution image that would reveal surface features to us just 25-30 years from now. It’s an enticing and amazing possibility, but how does it stack up to reality? Let’s take a look inside.

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