Kepler has been vital in the discovery of exoplanets, such as Kepler-10 shown, but characterising exoplanets is a much harder task. Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech
To answer significant questions about planetary systems, such as whether our Solar System is a rare phenomenon or if life exists on planets other than Earth, NASA should lead a large direct imaging mission – an advanced space telescope – capable of studying Earth-like exoplanets orbiting stars similar to the Sun, says a new congressionally mandated report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, based in Washington, United States.
The study of exoplanets – planets outside our Solar System that orbit a star – has seen remarkable discoveries in the past decade. The report identifies two overarching goals in this field of science:
To understand the formation and evolution of planetary systems as products of star formation and characterise the diversity of their architectures, composition, and environments.
To learn enough about exoplanets to identify potentially habitable environments and search for scientific evidence of life on worlds orbiting other stars.
Based on these goals, the committee that authored the report found that our current knowledge of the range of characteristics of planets outside the Solar System ...