Solar Gravity Lens Observatory
Tech Level: 14
Gravity can bend light. A provision of Einstein's General Relativity, one that has been observed often in the past decade as astronomers discover a number of very distant objects whose light has been distorted by some supermassive object between it and Earth. Double images of galaxies billions of light-years away have become a familiar sight in general astronomy articles and textbooks.
A Gravitational Lensing Observatory would take advantage of this effect by using the most massive object in nearby space--the Sun--and using its gravity as an enormous lens to help focus light from distant objects. However, the main obstacle is that the focal length for this is enormous--starting at about 550 AUs, or about 51 billion miles out from the sun, over twelve times the distance from the Sun to Pluto.
The main technical obstacle here is not so much building a space-worthy observatory, already a proven technology, but of hauling it to the extreme outer fringes of the solar system and maintaining it there.
There's also the problem the observatory being able to observe only a very small swath of sky, and it taking a very long time to maneuver to where it can observe another section. Civilizations serious about gravity lensing astronomy might build a large array of Gravitational Lensing Observatories, situated in a bubble 550 AUs in radius or so out from the parent star.
Solar Gravity Lens Transmitter/Receiver
Tech Level: 16
Rather than just passive observation, the gravity lens effect of a star can instead be used for interstellar communication, by using the sun's gravitational field to focus radio transmissions at other star systems in the local stellar neighborhood. Transmissions that need to travel lightyears can easily become grabled and broken up by the vast expanses of interstellar gasses. Transmissions focused by the gravity lens effects can help overcome this with less power than would otherwise be needed to punch through the interference.
These transmitter/receivers would still by necessity have to be fairly large and powerful in their own right. The focal length would vary depending on the distance to the target star, but would still be between 550 and 800 or so AUs. Like with the observatories, a civilization may build a huge halo of Gravity Lens communicator arrays around their home star, one for each neighboring star with someone to talk to.
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