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The Fast Track to Finding an Inhabited Exoplanet

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The investigation of planets orbiting other stars has moved from the study of gas giants to the hunt for smaller planets that are predominantly rock and ice in composition. When such planets are discovered in edge-on orbits, such that the planet and star undergo mutual eclipses, we are granted the opportunity to determine directly the planetary masses and sizes. Most interestingly, we can study starlight filtered through the planetary atmosphere to deduce its chemical composition, and perhaps even search for biosignatures. I will summarise the most recent results from the NASA Kepler Mission and describe two surveys intended to find the closest habitable exoplanet. I will conclude by assessing the prospects for searching for atmospheric biosignatures on such worlds with an ELT .

This talk is part of the Cambridge Astrophysics Joint Colloquia series.

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