With the discoveries of thousands of exoplanets over the last decade from both ground telescopes and space, the field of exoplanet science has been revolutionized. We now know that exoplanets are common, that small planets far outnumber large ones, and that solar systems come in a myriad of forms. The next revolution will come with the advent of direct imaging of exoplanets from space. This will make accessible planets down to Earth size and will provide information on the chemical makeup of the planets and their atmospheres. Within the next 15 years we may for the first time image an earth and search for evidence of life. This new era will begin with the launch of NASA's WFIRST spacecraft in 2025, the first telescope with a high performance coronagraph enabling imaging of planets down to 2 earth radii and capable of taking spectra of their atmosphere. In this talk I will describe the basics of high-contrast imaging and the key technologies developed over the last decade that make it possible. In particular, I describe the 15 year effort at Princeton on coronagraphs, wavefront control, and starshades that began and succeeded because of the close partnership between engineering and astrophysics.
View Dr. Kasdin’s TED Talk, “The flower-shaped starshade that might help us detect Earth-like planets.”