Habitable Worlds Observatory

The Habitable Worlds Observatory is a large infrared/optical/ultraviolet space telescope recommended by the National Academies’ Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s.

Habitable Worlds Observatory would be the first telescope designed specifically to search for signs of life on planets orbiting other stars.

A spectacular head-on collision between two galaxies, known as Arp 143, has fueled the unusual triangular-shaped star-formation frenzy as captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.  The interacting galaxy duo Arp 143 contains the distorted, star-forming spiral galaxy NGC 2445, at right, along with its less flashy companion, NGC 2444, at left. Their frenzied collision takes place against the tapestry of distant galaxies, of which some can be seen through the interacting pair.


NASA is further prioritizing its long-running search for life in the universe and laying the groundwork for its next flagship astrophysics mission after the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (slated to launch by May 2027). This observatory would simultaneously provide powerful capabilities for transformational astrophysics discoveries, from our cosmic backyard of the solar system to the distant universe and everything in between.

Currently referred to as the Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO), this is a concept for a mission that would search for and characterize habitable planets beyond our solar system. Building upon studies conducted for two earlier mission concepts called the Large Ultraviolet Optical Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR) and Habitable Exoplanets Observatory (HabEx), HWO would be designed specifically to identify potentially habitable planets around other stars, closely examining their atmospheres to determine if life could possibly exist.

The mission’s main objective would be to identify and directly image at least 25 potentially habitable worlds. It would then use spectroscopy to search for chemical “biosignatures” in these planets’ atmospheres, including gasses such as oxygen and methane which could serve as critical evidence for life. The observatory would introduce new capabilities to study the universe with unprecedented sensitivity and resolution, giving us important new insights into the evolution of cosmic structures, including how galaxies form and develop over time.