In just over two decades, humanity has gone from detecting its first planet beyond our solar system to finding thousands of these objects orbiting other stars. But we know precious little about most of them, beyond their sizes and locations in the galaxy. What are all these exoplanets made of? Do they have atmospheres, weather, seasons, oceans, continents? Our inability to address these questions stems from the fact that current detection methods do not “see” planets themselves but rather rely on the effects they induce on their star and its light.
In this talk astronomers Maggie Turnbull, Aki Roberge and Stuart Shaklan will describe an innovative design for a space-based observatory to find answers to our questions about exoplanets. The observatory would consist of a telescope plus “starshade,” which would separate the faint specks of planet light from the glare of their parent stars, and begin probing mysteries related to exoplanets’ chemistry, structure, and potential for harboring life.