Many of the exoplanets that are currently known have been discovered with the use of the transit method. This method involves the observation of the light produced by a star over a specific timeframe. If a planet passes in front of the star, it will affect the intensity of the light and attracting the attention of researchers.
NASA has been hard at work on the development of the new Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (also known under the name of WFIRST), which will employ an advanced search method in the form of microlensing, as reported on EarthSky.
According to the space agency, microlensing takes place as the light released by one of two close stats curves as it traverses the warped-space time region of the second star.
WFIRST Will Use Microlensing to Detect Exoplanets
The phenomenon was anticipated by Einstein and confirmed by a British researcher during a total eclipse which took place in 1919. In the case of a considerably short distance between the two stars, the closer one will become a natural lens, increasing the intensity of the light, which is generated by the background star.
Planets that orbit around the foreground star can also enhance the lensed light. Astronomers can measure the distortion and estimate certain aspects, including the potential mass of the planet and the distance to the host star. WFIRST will be able to send valuable information about select distortions.
The first objective of the new mission will be the center of the Milky Way, which contains an impressive amount of stars. To date, only 86 out of more than 4,000 exoplanets have been uncovered with the help of microlensing.
However, microlensing is favored as a superior method because the chances to discover a solar system which is similar to our own are considerably higher. WFIRST could also find many exoplanets that are similar to the ones found in the Solar system.