Bertrand Mennesson, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Study Scientist for the Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission Study
The Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx) is one of four mission concepts currently being studied by NASA in preparation for the 2020 Astrophysics Decadal Survey. The HabEx mission concept is a large (about 4 to 6.5 meter) stable optical telescope in space with unprecedented resolution to directly image exoplanets and enable galactic, extragalactic, and solar system astrophysics. The HabEx concept is ripe for development, being both technologically and scientifically implementable in the next decade.
The primary goal of HabEx is, for the first time, to directly image and characterize Earth-like exoplanets. However, HabEx will also study the full range of exoplanets, providing in particular the first complete “family portraits” of planets around our nearest sun-like neighbors.
There are two key methods for blocking light from stars to enable direct imaging of exoplanets: coronagraphs and starshades. The HabEx study is investigating both methods. Coronagraphs sit inside the telescope and include advanced wavefront control systems to block scattered starlight from reaching the science detectors. Starshades are large petal-shaped structures that fly far in front of the telescope to block starlight before it even reaches the telescope.
HabEx will characterize the atmospheric content of a wide range of exoplanets, including habitable zone planets, by measuring their spectra over a wide range of optical wavelengths, with possible extensions into the near UV and near infrared. This will allow HabEx to search for signatures of habitability such as water in addition to gases in the atmosphere possibly indicative of biological activity, such as oxygen and ozone, but also put the detection of such gases in the broader atmospheric context.
At the same time, HabEx will enable a broad range of galactic, extragalactic, and solar system astrophysics, from resolved stellar population studies that inform the stellar formation history of nearby galaxies, to characterizing the life cycle of baryons as they flow in and out of galaxies, to detailed studies of bodies in our own solar system.
The HabEx study is being undertaken by a Science and Technology Definition Team (STDT) comprised of experts within the community and is being managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. For further details, please contact the HabEx science community chairs Sara Seager (email@example.com) and Scott Gaudi (firstname.lastname@example.org) , or JPL’s HabEx study scientist Bertrand Mennesson (Bertrand.Mennesson@jpl.nasa.gov).
Further information on current STDT activities, open community telecons and face-to-face meetings can be found at www.jpl.nasa.gov/habex