NASA’s Kepler mission and its successor TESS are not the only space telescopes dedicated to finding exoplanets. The European Space Agency (ESA) has embarked on the challenge of finding and characterizing those planets in orbit around stars other than our Sun. We’ll discuss several of these missions in this special SETI Talks with leading European-based astronomers.
The CHEOPS mission (CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite) is the first of the newly created “S-class missions” (small class missions with an ESA budget of less than 50 million), and its goal is to characterize exoplanet transits. The mission recently reached a new milestone and has been declared ready for science. The space telescope targets stars known to have a transiting exoplanet and focuses on better characterizing Earth-like and super-Earth exoplanets. Willy Benz, Professor at the Physics Institute at the University of Bern and Principal Investigator of CHEOPS, will tell us about the mission and its goals.
PLATO (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) is the third medium-class mission in ESA's Cosmic Vision program. Its objective is to find and study a large number of extrasolar planetary systems, with an emphasis on the properties of terrestrial planets in the habitable zone around solar-like stars. PLATO will carry out high precision, long (months to years), uninterrupted photometric monitoring of terrestrial exoplanets to characterize their bulk properties, including planets in Sun-like habitable zone stars. Heike Rauer, principal investigator of PLATO, will tell us how the mission could discover terrestrial exoplanets, some in the habitable zone of solar-type stars, and characterize them. Such analysis will pave the way for future missions that could one day image another Pale Blue Dot.
ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey) aims to answer fundamental questions about how planetary systems form and evolve. ESA has selected it as its next medium-class science mission, due for launch in 2028. During its 4-year mission, ARIEL will observe more than 500 exoplanets ranging from Jupiter- and Neptune-size down to super-Earths in various environments. We invited Giovanna Tinetti, Head of the Astrophysics Group, UCL Department of Physics & Astronomy and Principal Investigator of ARIEL, to discuss this mission’s future goals and the technological challenges of building a mission capable of analyzing the light of exoplanets with transits.
These researchers will tell us about their missions and what to expect in the coming years from the highly accurate, and multi-color, transiting light curves provided by those space telescopes. They'll also discuss ESA's future contributions in discovering and characterizing exoplanets to better understand the formation of planetary systems and enable planetary science far beyond the Solar System's boundaries.
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