Time to think big: a call for a giant space telescope

Posted by ap507 at Jun 24, 2014 10:15 AM |
Professor Martin Barstow calls for governments and space agencies to back the Advanced Technologies Large Aperture Space Telescope

In the nearly 25 years since the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), astronomers and the public alike have enjoyed ground-breaking views of the cosmos and the suite of scientific discoveries that followed. The successor to HST, the James Webb Telescope, should launch in 2018 but will have a comparatively short lifetime.

Now Professor Martin Barstow (pictured), Pro-Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Science & Engineering, is looking to the future. In his talk at the National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2014) in Portsmouth on Tuesday 24 June, he calls for governments and space agencies around the world to back the Advanced Technologies Large Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST), an instrument that would give scientists a good chance of detecting hints of life on planets around other stars.

ATLAST is currently a concept under development in the USA and Europe. Scientists and engineers envisage a telescope with a mirror as large as 20 m across that like HST would detect visible light and also operate from the far-ultraviolet to the infrared parts of the spectrum. It would be capable of analysing the light from planets the size of the Earth in orbit around other nearby stars, searching for features in their spectra such as molecular oxygen, ozone, water and methane that could suggest the presence of life. It might also be able to see how the surfaces of planets change with the seasons.

Within the vision “Cosmic birth to living Earths”, ATLAST would study star and galaxy formation in high definition, constructing the history of star birth in detail and establishing how intergalactic matter was and is assembled into galaxies over billions of years.

Watch Professor Barstow talking to Astronomy Now about ATLAST: