Presentation #1233 in the session “Open Engagement Session C”.
Direct imaging of exoplanets in the thermal infrared would add quantitative details on their temperatures, luminosities, albedos, and level of internal/additional heating, all of which factor into their potential habitability. The ESO/Breakthrough-sponsored New Earths in the Alpha Centauri Region (NEAR) program recently completed the first ultra-deep imaging campaign in the thermal infrared with the upgraded VISIR-NEAR instrument. In this talk, I will describe the NEAR campaign and the unprecedented sensitivity that it demonstrated for imaging rocky habitable-zone exoplanets. I will also discuss on-going efforts to upgrade the mid-infrared capabilities of the LBT based on the lessons from NEAR, which would enable coordinated deep explorations for low-mass habitable-zone planets in both the Northern and Southern skies. Finally, I will discuss expectations for a NEAR-like instrument on an ELT, which could potentially enable imaging Earth-like planets in the habitable zones of nearby stars.