All About Space

Going equipped in the hunt for ET

Telescopes and spacecraft are helping astronomer­s look for vital signs of life across the universe

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Kepler Space Telescope

2009 to 2018

Searching for over nine years, Kepler enabled scientists to observe 530,506 stars and 2,662 planets from outside our Solar System. It showed that between 20 and 50 per cent of stars have planets similar in size to Earth within their habitable zone – that’s a lot of potential for life.

Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope

2016 to present

FAST uses radio waves to locate exoplanets, seeking to detect electromag­netic transmissi­ons of artificial origin. If aliens are trying to contact us, this telescope could pick up the call!

TESS Exoplaneth­unting Mission

2018 to present

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite has discovered thousands of exoplanets orbiting dwarf stars. It has enabled astronomer­s to build a vast database of worlds that are close enough to be studied for signs of extraterre­strial life.

Mars 2020

2020 to present

Part of NASA’s Mars Exploratio­n Program, Mars 2020 is the mission which has placed the Perseveran­ce rover on the surface of Mars. It has also launched a rotary helicopter called Ingenuity. Their primary aim is to seek signs of ancient life.

James Webb Space Telescope

2021 to 2031

The successor to Hubble will peer back 13.5 billion years to the time when the first stars and galaxies were formed. Able to detect infrared, it will be able to determine the atmosphere­s of planets and detect if they are being modified by alien life.

Europa Clipper

2024 to 2034

This mission plans to send an orbiter to perform as many as 50 flybys of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. By scanning close to every part of the moon, NASA hopes to use cameras, spectromet­ers and ice-penetratin­g radar to work out if Europa is capable of hosting life.

Dragonfly

2027 to 2039

Planning to launch in six years, a robotic rotorcraft will be sent to the surface of Saturn’s largest moon Titan. After landing in 2034 it will search for the building blocks of life. It’s going to take its scientific payload to multiple locations, which will give astronomer­s an abundance of data.

Thirty Meter Telescope

2027 onwards

When it’s built – high atop a volcano in Hawaii – this telescope will be one of the most powerful ever seen. Scientists are also identifyin­g planets it could help them study for signs of life, including Proxima Centauri b.

Extremely Large Telescope

2027 onwards

Part of the European Southern Observator­y, this telescope is being built in the Atacama Desert in Chile, and will be used to scan the skies for exoplanets. It will have 250 times the light-gathering area of Hubble and produce images that are 16 times sharper.

Giant Magellan Telescope

2029 onwards

This telescope will produce direct images of planets in the habitable zones of other stars. Astronomer­s will be able to analyse the atmosphere­s of those exoplanets and look for key indicators of life, potentiall­y making some staggering breakthrou­ghs.

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