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Comparative Planetology and the Search for Life Beyond the Solar System

  • Beichman, Charles A.
  • Fridlund, Malcolm
  • Traub, Wesley A.
  • Stapelfeldt, Karl R.
  • Quirrenbach, Andreas
  • Seager, Sara
Publication Date
Jan 19, 2006
Submission Date
Jan 19, 2006
arXiv ID: astro-ph/0601469
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The study of planets beyond the solar system and the search for other habitable planets and life is just beginning. Ground-based (radial velocity and transits) and space-based surveys (transits and astrometry) will identify planets spanning a wide range of size and orbital location, from Earth-sized objects within 1 AU to giant planets beyond 5 AU, orbiting stars as near as a few parsec and as far as a kiloparsec. After this initial reconnaissance, the next generation of space observatories will directly detect photons from planets in the habitable zones of nearby stars. The synergistic combination of measurements of mass from astrometry and radial velocity, of radius and composition from transits, and the wealth of information from the direct detection of visible and mid-IR photons will create a rich field of comparative planetology. Information on proto-planetary and debris disks will complete our understanding of the evolution of habitable environments from the earliest stages of planet-formation through to the transport into the inner solar system of the volatiles necessary for life. The suite of missions necessary to carry out the search for nearby, habitable planets and life requires a ``Great Observatories'' program for planet finding (SIM PlanetQuest, Terrestrial Planet Finder-Coronagraph, and Terrestrial Planet Finder-Interferometer/Darwin), analogous to the highly successful ``Great Observatories Program'' for astrophysics. With these new Great Observatories, plus the James Webb Space Telescope, we will extend planetology far beyond the solar system, and possibly even begin the new field of comparative evolutionary biology with the discovery of life itself in different astronomical settings.

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