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Nasa plots mission to find a SECOND Earth in distant star systems with giant folding space telescope

NASA astronomers are hoping to build an enormous folding space telescope to hunt for a "second Earth".

The device hopes to be Nasa's "next Great Observatory" – and will scan distant planets to find one that could readily support life.

The mission is nicknamed HabEx, which is short for 'Habitable Exoplanet Observatory'.

It would use a giant telescope with a mirror large than Hubble's.

Importantly, it would also use "origami techniques" to deploy a "starshade" – a revolutionary piece of space gear.

This would work to block the light from parent stars, helping astronomers to spot dim planets in their orbit.

It's part of Nasa's ongoing quest to find exoplanets like Earth.

"Our goal is to see if we can find a planet that is similar to Earth – one that can support life," said Scott Guadi, one of the project's co-chairs.

"While we've identified a number of planets outside our solar system, so far, none have conclusively been shown to have the elements necessary for habitability."

He described the mission as "the next logical step" in the search for planets similar to Earth.

HabEx would use a 4-metre-wide mirror, which is larger than Hubble's 2.4-metre mirror, to capture images.

Light from other planets is typically drowned out by brighter light from nearby stars – including our Sun.

But HabEx would deflect this starlight using the starshade.

This is a huge 52-metre (170-foot) flower-shaped disc that would go into space "folded origami-like into a tight spiral".

The starshade would then unfold once the satellite reached its orbit, and then fly nearly 77,000km (47,846 miles) from the telescope.

It would block light from stars, but still allow light reflecting off other planets to reach the telescope's instruments.

Next, the telescope would search nearby stars similar to our Sun for signs of planets with water or carbon dioxide.

These are two of the key signs that a planet is habitable.

The telescope would also be equipped with a powerful camera that can take pictures of nearby planetary systems.

What is an exoplanet?

Here's what you need to know...

Nasa hopes that the mission will run for between five and 10 years.

But the bad news is that Nasa's plan to create HabEx might not go ahead.

HabEx is just one of four separate mission concepts to create a new 'Great Observatory' to help map space.

America's federal Decadal Survey will make a recommendation on which project should receive funding by 2021.

Even if the project does get the go-ahead, it is unlikely to launch until the 2030s.

Mercury transit 2019 – planet passes in front of Sun in rare space event

In other news, Nasa recently revealed a stunning night photo of Earth.

An ‘impossible’ black hole found in the Milky Way is so big science says it shouldn’t exist.

Nasa has released a puzzling image of a nearly perfect ring galaxy.

And, Elon Musk's Starlink satellites have come under fire once again for 'interrupting' footage of a meteor shower.

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