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A new type of camera developed by U.S. researchers will allow astronomers to directly image planets around nearby stars in the search for another Earth.
The camera, called DARKNESS (the DARK-speckle Near-infrared Energy-resolved Superconducting Spectrophotometer), relies on extremely sensitive superconductor detectors to gather light from distant worlds.
Later this year, the researchers plan to deploy an even larger, 20,000-pixel camera on an 8-m (26 feet) telescope at Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
"Going from a 5-m to an 8-m telescope is a big improvement in what you can see," said Mazin. "Mauna Kea is the best site in the world for this kind of work, and we hope that the 8-m telescope in combination with a very powerful adaptive optic system will allow us to start finding more planets and for the first time start seeing planets in reflected light."
Mazin said he hopes the technology will be used in the future 30-m (98 feet) telescopes, which will be powerful enough to read the spectrum of the reflected light from exoplanets around nearby stars and look for signatures of life in those worlds' atmospheres.