For thousands of years people have wondered if there are planets like Earth, if they’re common, and if any have signs of life. Today astronomers are poised to answer these ancient questions, having recently found thousands of planets that orbit nearby sun-like stars, called exoplanets. Thousands of them are known to orbit nearby stars, and small rocky planets are established to be common.
The ambitious goal of identifying a habitable or inhabited world is within reach. The race to find habitable exoplanets has accelerated with the realization that “big Earths” transiting small stars can be both discovered and characterized with current technology. The successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, scheduled to launch later this year, has a chance to be the first to provide evidence of the biosignature gases that indicate life. But that step is the beginning of a long journey. What more will it take to identify habitable worlds with the telescopes available to us—and those of the future?
Sara Seager, a professor of physics and planetary science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is one of the leading experts on the search for Earth-like planets, shares the latest advances in this revolutionary field.
Following the talk, Peter Plavchan, a professor of physics and astronomy at George Mason University, brings the skies into your living room with remote control of the GMU Observatory. Weather permitting, enjoy a remote tour of the observatory after the program.
Upcoming GMU Observatory programs
Wed., Sept 22: NASA's Next Great Observatory
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