Seeking Planets in the Dust (Artist's Concept)

A dusty planetary system (left) is compared to another system with little dust in this artist concept. Dust can make it difficult for telescopes to image planets because light from the dust can outshine that of the planets. Dust reflects visible light and shines with its own infrared, or thermal, glow. As the illustration shows, planets appear more readily in the planetary system shown at right with less dust.

Research with the NASA-funded Keck Interferometer, a former NASA key science project that combined the power of the twin telescopes of the W.M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii, shows that mature, sun-like stars appear to be, on average, not all that dusty. This is good news for future space missions wanting to take detailed pictures of planets like Earth and seek out possible signs of life. The Keck Interferometer completed its NASA prime mission in 2012.