Thursday, May 03, 2007

Planet Earth II?

Wired reports: [edited]

Scientists seeking habitable planets beyond Earth scored a lucky hit last week with the discovery of Gliese 581c, the first yet found with an orbit in the so-called Goldilocks zone (not too hot, not too cold).

But confirming life there, and in other yet-to-be-discovered systems, will require a new generation of space telescopes capable of picking up "signatures" such as water vapour, carbon dioxide, ozone and methane.

NASA and the European Space Agency are developing planet finders that will do just that by 2020, assuming funding comes through.

NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder, or TPF, is already underway. The artist's rendering shows a traditional telescope on the left - a visible-light chronograph - that will launch in 2016 and pick out likely candidates. An array of infrared telescopes (right) will launch four years later and look for life signatures.

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