Scientists have announced plans to build a telescope that may give us clues to whether alien life exists on planets millions of miles away. The Atlast, or Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope, will be the most powerful telescope in the world and will be able to analyse atmospheres of planets and solar systems up to 30 light years away. Due to the size of the telescope, no rocket will be capable of transporting it up into space; instead, a team of astronaut construction workers will be ferried by Nasa’s Orion rocket to assemble the telescope situated one million miles above the earth’s surface.
For the Atlast telescope to progress past the planning stage, a global collaboration between all the space agencies will be required. With the Hubble Space Telescope aging and Kepler crippled, leading astronomers are mounting a new push for translating the concept of Atlast into reality. The time is right for scientific and space agencies around the world to take a bold step forward to commit themselves to the project. As the earlier SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) ventures based on the earth haven’t yielded a positive result—nor has there been any communication sent to mankind from intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe—there was perhaps no alternative for the scientists but to station another telescope.
The clarity of space will not only provide it with a clear view of the tens of thousands of planets that orbit around stars similar to the sun 30 light years away, but also answer the question whether they have an oxygen-rich atmosphere capable of harbouring advanced life forms. If SETI has been the holy grail of astronomers, the reason apparently is their refusal to believe that earth is the only planet where life has evolved beyond the stages of plants and animals to produce sentient beings capable of wondering about creation. Will Atlast solve the mystery?