SIM PlanetQuest Mission
SIM PlanetQuest, scheduled for launch within the next decade, will be the most powerful planet-hunting space telescope ever devised. Using two separated mirrors and combining their light with a technique known as interferometry, SIM PlanetQuest will able to detect planets as small as Earth. These are the kind of planets that scientists believe have the most potential to support life.
Although more than 160 planets have been discovered beyond our solar system since 1995, the "holy grail" - Earthlike planets located in the habitable zone - remains beyond the reach of current telescopes.
SIM PlanetQuest will perform the first census of nearby Earth-like planets by observing the "wobble" in each parent star's apparent motion as the planet orbits, to an accuracy of one millionth of an arcsecond.
The SIM PlanetQuest study of neighboring planetary systems will set the stage for future space telescopes, like Terrestrial Planet Finder, that will be able to directly image these distant worlds, and probe their atmospheres for the signatures of life.
Image credit: NASA/JPL