An artist's illustration of an Earth-like planet. The search for planets that are similar to Earth is one of NASA's main goals. Many planets have already been discovered orbiting other stars, but so far only larger planets (the size of Jupiter or larger) have been found. New missions are being planned by NASA which will be able to detect smaller Earth-sized planets. Some of these missions will also try to detect signs of life on these planets by studying emissions in their atmospheres.


Giant telescope to scan sky for planets like ours


 SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE, Canary Islands — One of the world's most powerful telescopes will begin spying on the universe on Friday, using its 34-foot wide mirror to search for planets similar to our own from a mountaintop on one of Spain's Canary Islands.

Perched atop a 7,800 foot peak on the Atlantic island of La Palma, the Great Canary Telescope will receive its so-called "first light" — when the telescope is pointed toward the sky and focusses on the North Star — Friday night.

"The GTC will be able to reach the weakest and most distant celestial objects of the universe," the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute said in a statement.

"One of its aims is to find planets similar to ours in other solar systems," the institute added.

The telescope will have 36 hexagonal mirrors, of which 12 are already in place.

Once the telescope has had its first light, the remaining 24 mirrors will be placed and adjusted, and the scope will be fully functional within a year, according to the institute.

"With this (telescope) it will possible to capture the birth of new stars, to study more profoundly the characteristics of the black holes or to decipher the chemical components generated by the Big Bang," the institute said in a statement.
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