Characterizing the Habitable Zones of Exoplanetary Systems with a Large Ultraviolet/Visible/Near-IR Space Observatory
Understanding the surface and atmospheric conditions of Earth-size, rocky planets in the habitable zones (HZs) of low-mass stars is currently one of the greatest astronomical endeavors. Knowledge of the planetary effective surface temperature alone is insufficient to accurately interpret biosignature gases when they are observed in the coming decades. The UV stellar spectrum drives and regulates the upper atmospheric heating and chemistry on Earth-like planets, is critical to the definition and interpretation of biosignature gases, and may even produce false-positives in our search for biologic activity. This white paper briefly describes the scientific motivation for panchromatic observations of exoplanetary systems as a whole (star and planet), argues that a future NASA UV/Vis/near-IR space observatory is well-suited to carry out this work, and describes technology development goals that can be achieved in the next decade to support the development of a UV/Vis/near-IR flagship mission in the 2020s.