Exoplanet illustration

For the first time in history, humans have reached the point where it is possible to construct a revolutionary space-based observatory that has the capability to find dozens of Earth-like worlds, and possibly some with signs of life. This general purpose, long-lived facility would be the prime tool for generations of astronomers, producing transformational scientific advances in every area of astronomy and astrophysics from black hole physics to galaxy formation, from star and planet formation to the Solar System. The associated inspirational public impact will likely exceed that of all other current and past astronomical endeavors.

To define a vision for meeting this challenge, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) commissioned a new study of space-based options for UV and optical astronomy in the era following the James Webb Space Telescope’s mission. This study follows AURA’s charge to promote excellence in astronomical research by providing community access to state-of-the-art facilities. AURA tasked a team of research astronomers and technologists to “assess future space-based options for UV and optical astronomy that can significantly advance our understanding of the origin and evolution of the cosmos and the life within it.”

We conclude, after careful consideration of the science cases and technological approaches, that a 12 meter class space telescope with sufficient stability and the appropriate instrumentation can find and characterize dozens of Earth-like planets and make transformational advances in astrophysics.

The concept we propose is called the “High-Definition Space Telescope” (HDST). HDST will have unprecedented image clarity and sensitivity in the UV and optical and will be able to search nearby Earth-like planets for signs of life. Equipped with a versatile instrument package to optimize its scientific yield, HDST would be operated as a general observatory supporting a broad range of astronomical observations that seek answers to some of our most profound questions.

Our report is available here, along with other resources and information about HDST.