Searching for Life in the Solar System ... And Beyond

A Research Discussion Meeting
London, UK - 31 October 1996


A J Penny, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Chilton, Didcot, Oxon

We know that there are giant planets, like Jupiter, around some of the nearby stars. We do not yet know if there planets like the Earth. If there are any, and if they are at a reasonable distance from the star they are orbiting, their temperature could be such as to permit an atmosphere and surface water like the Earth's. What could we learn from studying their atmospheres? The surprising answer is that we could tell if there is oxygen-producing life on the planet, as no natural process can sustain large amounts of oxygen. Much work will be done from the ground over the coming years in detecting more large planets, and understanding how planets form. But the detection of small planets like the Earth and especially the study of their atmospheres will demand a special type of telescope in space - an infrared interferometer some 50 - 10 metres across. Technology has progressed so that it is now feasible to build such a telescope, and ESA has decided to study the possibility of including one in its Horizons 2000 plan. This talk will describe a possible design and the science that could be done with it.