Atomically Precise Sensors Could Detect Another Earth

Tiny wobbles of distant stars may soon help reveal life-sustaining worlds

12 min read
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Funnel for Light: The 3.5-meter mirror of the WIYN telescope channels starlight into a glass fiber, which carries it to the NEID spectrograph, located in the basement of the observatory.

Photo: National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/KPNO/AURA/NSF
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Gazing into the dark and seemingly endless night sky above, people have long wondered: Is there another world like ours out there, somewhere? Thanks to new sensors that we and other astronomers are developing, our generation may be the first to get an affirmative answer—and the earliest hints of another Earth could come as soon as this year.

Astronomers have discovered thousands of exoplanets so far, and almost two dozen of them are roughly the size of our own planet and orbiting within the so-called habitable zone of their stars, where water might exist on the surface in liquid form. But none of those planets has been confirmed to be rocky, like Earth, and to circle a star like the sun. Still, there is every reason to expect that astronomers will yet detect such a planet in a nearby portion of the galaxy.

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