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.
It is hoped that the telescope will give astronomers crucial insights into whether extra-terrestrial life forms are able to exist in undiscovered areas of space.
To be able to analyse these planets, the telescope will have to be the largest of its kind ever to be built and up to four times bigger than the 44ft Hubble Space Telescope.
Inside will be a mirror with a diameter of 52ft, the largest man-made mirror ever.
Due to the size of the telescope, no rocket will be capable of transporting it up to space and instead, a team of astronaut construction workers will be ferried by Nasa’s Orion rocket to assemble the telescope situated one million miles from the earth’s surface.
The details of the project will be revealed at this week’s National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth by the president for the Royal Astronomical Society, Martin Barstow.
NASA: Space in pictures
NASA: Space in pictures
A false colour image of Cassiopeia A comprised with data from the Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes and the Chandra X-Ray observatory
The Barred Spiral Galaxy (NGC 6217) in the Ursa Minor constellation is pictured in Space
A team of astrophysicists has detected so-called gravitational waves – predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago – which are the first tremors of the Big Bang when time and space began about 13.7 billion years ago
Rex Features/Mood Board
The barred spiral galaxy M83, also known as the Southern Pinwheel. The Hubble photograph captures thousands of star clusters, hundreds of thousands of individual stars, and 'ghosts' of dead stars called supernova remnants
Acosmic creepy-crawly known as the Tarantula Nebula in infrared light
A spiral galaxy ESO 373-8 - together with at least seven of its galactic neighbours, this galaxy is a member of the NGC 2997 group
A massive galaxy cluster Abell 2744, according to NASA these are some of the faintest and youngest galaxies ever detected in space
A giant cloud of solar particles, a coronal mass ejection, explodes off the sun, lower right, captured by the European Space Agency and NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory
Current conditions of the quiet corona and upper transition region of the Sun
First color image of the Earth taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts in 1968
Fog forming over the the US Great Lakes area and streaming southeast with the wind. A swirling mass of Arctic air moved south into the continental United States
Astronaut Mike Hopkins, Expedition 38 Flight Engineer, is shown in the second of two spacewalks designed to allow the crew to change out a faulty water pump on the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station
According to Barstow, the telescope will allow astronomers to discover around 60 new planets and provide information on the levels of oxygen and other gases that might indicate potential life.
Barstow told the Sunday Times: “This telescope could see Earth-like planets around stars up to 30 light years away. There are tens of thousands of stars within that distance and we estimate that at least a few thousand of those will be similar to the sun.”
He added: “Once it found a planet, the telescope would analyse its atmosphere for ozone, methane, oxygen and other gases which suggest the presence of life.”
For the Atlast telescope to progress past the planning stage, it is believed a global collaboration between all of the world’s space agencies will be required.
Barstow said: “Nasa will have to take the lead as it is the biggest space agency, but it is already in discussion with the European Space Agency, of which Britain is a member. We are looking at 2030 because that is how long these projects take.”