The search for alien life needs a new space telescope, astronomers say

Sep 11, 2018

By Loren Grush

If NASA truly wants to get serious in the search for life off of Earth, scientists argue that the space agency should launch a new, large telescope into space — one capable of directly capturing the images of planets outside our Solar System. Such technology doesn’t fully exist at the moment. But astronomers say it’s our best bet to find another Earth, one that could host biological organisms.

This mission concept is the top recommendation in a new report compiled by members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The academy was tasked by Congress to come up with the best strategy for studying and exploring exoplanets, worlds that are located outside the Solar System. And after gathering input from experts in the field, the National Academies came up with seven recommendations, with the telescope at the top of the list.

It’s an aspirational request, given the harsh realities that NASA has faced while trying to build its next big space observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST. It was originally envisioned to cost $1 billion, and to launch in 2007. This past June, NASA conceded that the entire project would run $9.66 billion, and the telescope wouldn’t launch until 2021 at the earliest. And the type of telescope that this report recommends would require new technologies that haven’t been tested out in space yet, which might make the vehicle even more complex and more expensive than JWST.

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