NASA's Space Telescopes get Keener Vision in their Search for Extra-Solar Planets
2 Nov 2006
Astronomers have entered a Golden Age of Discovery when it comes to the search for extra-solar planets. With the continued success of the Hubble Space Telescope, The Kepler Space Telescope, and continuation of the Strategic Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) program, NASA has decided to ramp up funding for these programs and increase international cooperation in the building and exploration of these telescopes. With the help of the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA is working to develop the James Webb Telescope. NASA's European partners are providing instruments for the observatory and an Ariane 5 launch vehicle to get it into orbit. The Canadian Space Agency is building James Webb's guidance system, and, of course, the lead project scientist for the Webb Space Telescope is NASA's first civil servant to win the Nobel Prize, Dr. John Mather.
In addition, NASA astronomers are working with CNES, the French Space Agency, for imagery and insights to be gleaned from the soon-to-be launched COROT space telescope to survey extra-solar planets with periods of less than 75 days. In a few years, NASA's Kepler space telescope will survey such Earth-like planets with periods of less than one year - or - what is considered a habitable zone for extra-solar life. Then, ESA's ambitious GAIA mission not only will chart a three-dimensional map of our Milky Way galaxy, but it also should help detect and classify tens of thousands of extra-solar planets.