Mapping the nearest stars for habitable worlds
Thousands of exoplanets are known to orbit nearby stars and small rocky planets are established to be common. The ambitious goal of identifying a habitable or inhabited world is within reach. The race to find habitable exoplanets has accelerated with the realization that "big Earths" transiting small stars can be both discovered and characterized with current technology, such that the James Webb Space Telescope has a chance to be the first to provide evidence of biosignature gases. Transiting exoplanets require a fortuitous alignment and the fast-track approach is therefore only the first step in a long journey. The next step is sophisticated starlight suppression techniques for large ground-based telescopes now under construction and hopeful future space-based based telescopes to observe small exoplanets directly. These ideas will lead us down a path to where future generations will implement very large space-based telescopes to search thousands of all types of stars for hundreds of Earths to find signs of life amidst a yet unknown range of planetary environments. What will it take to identify habitable worlds with the telescopes available to us?