Finding a true Earth analog orbiting within the habitable zone of a sun-like star is a sort of holy grail to astronomers and we are about to get a lot closer to detect one in the near future as new incredible inventions and technologies are available to us now.
Today, our best planets’ hunter is the Kepler Telescope, a NASA spacecraft specifically designed to survey a portion of our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover Earth like planets. So far, Kepler has found more than 1000 exoplanets but most of them are just hot gas giants like Jupiter orbiting too close to their parent star and thus they are completely inhospitable to life as we understand it.
However, researchers think that a handful of Kepler’ planets found so far are a bit like Earth and orbit in the habitable zones of their host stars, where liquid water might exist.
Detecting an Earth-sized planet is actually a real challenge; these planets are orbiting extremely bright stars, sometimes billions of times brighter than the reflection off the planet; But now scientists think that they have a solution. If we block the glaring light of other stars, then we can study the faint planets in more details.
Evidence for life is not going to look like little green people—it’s going to reveal itself in a spectrum,
said Nick Siegler.
The next steps to search for Earth like Planets
NASA’ engineers are now working on 2 technologies to help with this challenge: the starshade, big, flower-shaped spacecraft; and coronagraphs, special masks to block out light from stars’ bright surface.
These two method will help us to take images of Earth like planets, and then use other instruments called spectrometers to search the planets’ atmospheres for chemical clues about whether life might exist there.
Coronagraphs are like visors in your car – you use them to block the light of the sun so you can see the road,
Starshades, on the other hand, are separate spacecraft that fly in front of other telescopes, so they are more like driving behind a big truck in front of you to block the light of the sun.
Siegler is featured in the Crazy Engineering video.
Its awesome to see advancement is still being done every week. We are confident that NASA’ team will succeed soon; this could be a real gamechanger in finding planets, exciting prospects!
We think that these technologies are the only near-term solution for characterizing and determining the habitability of an Earth like planets,
Anthony Harness said.