Observatoire de Paris
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The space telescope James Web (artistic reproduction).
Copyright : Northrop Grumman

For the moment, there is only one telescope for which a launch date has been established (planned in 2011), the James Web Space Telescope (JWST). However, there are several projects under discussion.

The JWST is a 7-meter telescope optimized for infrared. It is equiped with several instruments (spectrographs, cameras). For exoplanets, it includes a camera called MIRI (Mid-InfraRed Imager), equiped with a series of coronographs dedicated to the detection of planets in different wavelengths, between 7 and 20 microns. It should detect some planets around the nearest stars.

In the mean time, there are three types of projects, for which there is still no definitive decision :

  • A telescope with a diameter of about 1 meter, equiped with a coronograph, which could detect the light reflected from giant planets.
  • A 3,5m x 7m telescope, called TPF-C, equiped with a coronograph, dedicated to the detection of telluric planets through reflected stellar light.
  • An interferometer made up of 3 to 6 3-meter telescopes, at a distance of a few tens or hundreds of meters. There are two parallel projects. One of them, Darwin, is under consideration in the European Space Agency. The other, TPF-1, is studied by NASA. These two projects plan to detect telluric planets in the infrared, thanks to their thermal emission.

The great interest of these three last projects (Darwin, TPF-C and TPF-1) is the possibility for the detection of spectral bio-signatures.