The Hubble telescope has given us spectacular pictures from space, but they’re not detailed enough to help us in our search for life in the trillions of galaxies across the universe. If tens of percent of stars have planets that could resemble the earth and could potentially have life, then the implications are that there are billions of them just within our Milky Way galaxy.

As a member of the NAS Committee on Exoplanet Science Strategy, Justin Crepp focused on how and what the United States will explore in space over the next decade.

In September, the Committee released a report detailing several recommendations to do just that. First, it encourages NASA to develop and launch a space-based mission, specifically to image and characterize earth-like planets around the stars, but that’s not easy. If you try to image a planet, you run into several difficulties straight away. One is that their separation is very small on the sky, so you need a certain sized telescope to do that. The problem is that Earth’s atmosphere blurs out the images and so it exacerbates that problem.

The committee believes the NASA mission collecting data from above the Earth’s atmosphere and more powerful equipment could resolve that issue, which leads to the second recommendation, building two large ground-based telescopes that will produce images 10 times sharper than that of the Hubble Space Telescope. In his lab, Crepp and his colleagues work on other new equipment. Highly sophisticated equipment will also help with another recommendation, completing the partially-funded wide-field Infrared Survey telescope. When launched into space, it will not only search for planets hundreds of light-years away, it will gather information on what they’re made of and if they could support life. That Crepp says could answer an age-old question.

Are we alone? This is a question that impacts not only science but theology and philosophy and other areas, and so it’s a curiosity. It’s part of being human. Is our world’s special? Is it isolated or other planets out there that could have life? Can we communicate with them? Other recommendations to start to answer those questions include building state-of-the-art equipment, developing a network for teens around the world to collaborate and creating an investor program to fund it all. The report will be reviewed by the US Congress and used in the federal plan to search for new planets and extraterrestrial life over the next decade.

For VOA news I’m Erika Celeste in Notre Dame Indiana.







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