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Space Telescope Science Institute
Large-Aperture Direct Imaging

D. Sandler
ThermoTrex Corp., San Diego CA

NASA's Extra-solar Neighboring Planetary Systems (ExNPS) roadmap recommends a decade of vigorous exploration from the ground during the design and development of a space infrared nulling interferometer to detect and analyze the spectra of earth-like planets around neighboring stars. An element of the ground observational program will be discovering and analyzing nearby extra-solar planetary systems through direct imaging of giant planets and the structure of exo-zodiacal emission. To accomplish these goals will require pushing the current capabilities for direct detection of faint sources to a new domain of very high contrast and sensitivity, made possible only through the technology of adaptive optics. Adaptive optics has been shown already to lead to dramatic sharpening of ground-based images, by removing the effects of atmospheric blurring through measurement and correction of the wavefront using a deformable mirror. In this paper, we will discuss the potential of AO for discoveries from the ground, and show that a new, more advanced form of adaptive optics on large telescopes will allow direct imaging of Jupiter-like planets around nearby stars. Detailed simulations of the new method show that a Jupiter twin at 10 pc can be detected at 5 standard deviations above the residual halo noise in a single night of observation. A decade-long program of potential discoveries from the ground, using large telescopes and interferometry with adaptive optics, will be outlined.