The plethora of new exoplanet discoveries has astronomers longing for a telescope that can see them up close.
Astronomers need either a giant space telescope equipped with a device for blocking starlight, or an interferometer, consisting of several telescopes flying in formation. NASA did develop a proposal for such a space telescope, called Terrestrial Planet Finder, and the European Space Agency hoped to fly a similar mission called Darwin. But budgetary constraints have left both missions in limbo, unlikely to advance to the front of either agency’s queue until well into the next decade. At the conference, Traub raised the issue. “People are not thinking deeply about the distant future. People are wrapped up with what they’re doing right now,” he says. “Clearly, I’m concerned.”