From the February 2014 issue

Scientists imaging exoplanets

Astronomers have directly observed a few dozen worlds orbiting other suns.
By | Published: February 24, 2014 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Beta Pictoris
The star Beta Pictoris lies about 50 light-years from Earth.
Processing by Christian Marois, NRC Canada
The ultimate goal in the study of exoplanets is to find life’s biosignatures on another world. I describe this search in April’s “The next search for Earth-like worlds.” To do so, scientists will need to directly observe an Earth-like planet that is orbiting at the right distance to support surface water and determine many of the gasses in its atmosphere. So far, astronomers have taken photographs of 47 planets — seven of them shown below. But these are young worlds that lie far from their young stars — not places that yet could support life. Researchers expect the technology to advance enough in the next few decades to directly observe such life-hosting worlds.