Image: Artist's impression of the Colossus telescope, the successor to PLANETS telescope undergoing fundraising right now (PLANETS Foundation)
If there's anything we've learned from scouring thousands of planetary candidates over the past decade, it's that finding life beyond Earth is an intensive search.
We've got observatories in space and observatories on the ground. We've got plenty of evidence of rocky planets in the habitable regions of their respective stars. What we're missing, though, is information about these planets' atmospheres. Is there oxygen or other life-friendly elements?
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A group of astronomers now hope to fill this gap in our knowledge. They are raising money for a nearly $4 million project called the Polarized Light from Atmospheres of Nearby ExtraTerrestrial Systems (PLANETS) telescope. If funding, site approvals and construction all line up, they hope to have the 1.85-meter telescope ready by mid-2018.
The ultimate goal is to create a $600-million Colossus telescope with 60 independent off-axis 8 meter telescopes, all in a single structure, but that's down the road. First things first: the PLANETS telescope has less than a million dollars of funding to go before construction can begin.
The PLANETS Foundation has a team of astrophysicists and imaging experts on board, as well as several institutions and they are hoping to convince the astronomy community that they can make a valuable contribution to looking at potentially habitable planets. Jeff Kuhn, the leader of the consortium, talked about the recent discovery of a planet around Proxima Centauri as one example worthy of study.