[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT:
Astrometry can detect rocky planets in a broad range of masses and orbital distances and measure their masses and three-dimensional orbital parameters, including eccentricity and inclination, to provide the properties of terrestrial planets. The masses of both the new planets and the known gas giants can be measured unambiguously, allowing a direct calculation of the gravitational interactions, both past and future. Such dynamical interactions inform theories of the formation and evolution of planetary systems, including Earth-like planets. Astrometry is the only technique technologically ready to detect planets of Earth mass in the habitable zone (HZ) around solar-type stars within 20 pc. These Earth analogs are close enough for follow-up observations to characterize the planets by infrared imaging and spectroscopy with planned future missions such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Terrestrial Planet Finder/Darwin. Employing a demonstrated astrometric precision of 1 microarcsecond and a noise floor under 0.1 micro-arcseconds, SIM Lite can make multiple astrometric measurements of the nearest 60 F-, G-, and K-type stars during a five-year mission. SIM Lite directly tests theories of rocky planet formation and evolution around Sun-like stars and identifies the nearest potentially habitable planets for later spaceborne imaging, e.g., with Terrestrial Planet Finder and Darwin. SIM was endorsed by the two recent Decadal Surveys and it meets the highest-priority goal of the 2008 AAAC Exoplanet Task Force.