Presentation #502.01 in the session Future 2.
The atmospheric characterization of a significant number of terrestrial planets, including the search for habitable and potentially inhabited planets, is arguably a major goal of exoplanetary science. The US decadal survey has recently recommended a ~6-m UV/VIS/IR telescope as future flagship mission with the goal to detect and characterize terrestrial exoplanets in reflected light. Here, we present the current status of the European-led LIFE (Large Interferometer For Exoplanets) initiative, which is investigating the scientific potential and technological challenges of an ambitious space mission aiming at detecting the thermal emission of such exoplanets. LIFE will work at mid-infrared wavelengths and consist of several spacecraft that act as a formation-flying nulling interferometer. In this contribution we discuss the expected science return from such a mission, highlight the unique diagnostic power of the mid-infrared wavelength regime for exoplanet science, emphasize the synergies with NASA’s future flagship mission, and provide a status update of relevant technologies for a mission like LIFE. Given the recent outcome from the “Voyage2050” process that prioritized future science topics for the Science Programme of the European Space Agency (ESA), there could — in principle — be an L-class slot for a mission like LIFE in the 2035-2050 timeframe.