With NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope set to launch in late 2018, researchers are already talking about the next generation of telescopes. That’s because massive instruments take years, if not decades, to plan, build and launch, and scientists don’t want the science to stop when Webb wraps up its mission. When it comes to telescopes, larger mirrors collect more light, allowing researchers to see even fainter objects. At the Astrobiology Science Conference in Mesa, Arizona, in April, Grunsfeld made the case for a 12-meter telescope. “We don’t want to be in the position of saying, now we need a bigger telescope to find something important,” Grunsfeld said.
Based on scientists’ current understanding of how frequent rocky terrestrial worlds are around other stars, Fischer said that a large telescope like LUVOIR, combined with a coronagraph to block the light from the star, should be an enormous improvement over smaller telescopes.
The more worlds an instrument can spot, the greater the likelihood that scientists can identify at least one of them as habitable.