The European Space Agency (ESA) will launch an exoplanet telescope for the first time, which will study hundreds of known objects outside the solar system in detail. Astronomers say the mission heralds a shift from a project designed to discover such planets, about 4,000 exoplanets, to a project designed to learn more about them.
CHEOPS is the first project to study rather than look for an extraterrestrial world
Artist’s CHEOPS Picture: ESA/ATG Medialab
The 300-kilogram, 50 million euro ($55 million) spacecraft, called CHEOPS, is scheduled to be launched by a Soyuz rocket from the European Kuru spaceport in French Guiana on December 17. The telescope will be put into orbit 700 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. There, its main instrument will point uninterrupted to the dark side of the Earth so that its space vision is not disturbed by sunlight.
“We are moving from the discovery of these exoplanets to the description of their characteristics. “With CHEOPS, we can answer the question of how asteroids are formed,” said Kate Isaak, a project scientist at the European Center for Space Research and Technology in Nordvik, the Netherlands. “
By equipping a single camera, CHEOPS will look closely at known exoplanets orbiting stars. Using the method of observing star brightness changes, astronomers will use CHEOPS to calculate the size of these exoplanets and study the atmospheres of some of these objects, providing vital information for studying the formation and evolution of different exoplanets.
The telescope will begin its 3.5-year scientific mission in April 2020, during which time it will study 300 to 500 exoplanets.
Astronomers discovered the first exoplanet using ground-based telescopes 30 years ago. Since then, space launches aimed at discovering more new exoplanets have been completed, including NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, which retired in November 2018, and NASA’s Sunrise Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April 2018.
But CHEOPS was the first space telescope dedicated to studying exoplanets. Known exoplanets, whose targets range from Earth-sized objects to mini Neptune, are gaseous planets slightly smaller than ice giants Uranus and Neptune. These include the popular “super-Earth” 55 Cancri e, HD 97658b of a suspected giant ice planet, and the giant gas planet KELT-9b, which has a daytime temperature of more than 4,000 degrees Celsius. “KELT-9b is actually a hotter planet than a cold star. David Ehrenreich, a cheOPS mission scientist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said.
CHEOPS is the first of several missions to help study exoplanets in detail in the coming years. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in the 1920s, will use its giant mirror to probe the distant universe in infrared parts of the spectrum and will be a powerful tool for studying the atmospheres of distant objects.
In 2028, ESA will launch the Atmospheric Remote Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Survey Satellite (ARIEL). The project will use infrared light to study the atmospheres of about 1,000 exoplanets to find out their composition and evolution.
“Now, it’s the norm to detect exoplanets. “But we need to enter a new era in which we will begin to describe and measure their detailed properties,” said Matt Griffin, an astronomer at Cardiff University in the UK, a member of the ARIEL research team. “
“Over the past 25 years, the study of exoplanets has become one of the hottest topics in astrophysics. “So the scientific community is very excited about it. “