Launched ESA Mission Plans to Study Exoplanets

A European probe launched from South America on Wednesday, on an expedition scheduled to take place three years. The mission requires the spacecraft to observe and analyze planets located in other Solar Systems.

The Characterising ExoPlanets Satellite (CHEOPS)​ expedition launched from Kourou, French Guiana at 08.54 GMT (3.54 a.m EST) on top of a Russian Soyuz rocket. The blast-off came 24 hours after a first try was postponed immediately after liftoff because of a software issue in the upper stage of the vehicle.

The European Space Agency (ESA) reported that the satellite is the first program aiming at observing bright stars found in the vicinity that are already known to have planets. The mission will concentrate its efforts on planets in the super-Earth to Neptune size extent.

The agency hopes that the observations sent by the satellite will allow the most density of those planets to be measured, a first step toward learning about them better. ESA’s telescope will focus on bright stars to measure the size of planets as they travel via the front of their star.

Studying Exoplanets

Swiss astronomer and Nobel Physics Prize winner Didier Queloz, who leads the CHEOPS science team, said that the mission would concentrate on 100 of the more than 4,000 exoplanets that are located outside our Solar System. These planets were already discovered, and the mission will try to determine if there is a chance of a planet similar to Earth, capable of sustaining life.

“We are one planetary system among many,” he said. “It’s all about our place in the universe and trying to understand it.”

According to Queloz, a telescope will study the exoplanets’ densities and radii and measure whether they have atmospheres.

“We know nothing, except that they are there,” he said. Queloz added that the instrument might take one orbit, or 100 minutes, on one exoplanet and perhaps 50 orbits, or five days on another one. It all depends on their sizes.

The rocket had on board an Earth observation satellite for the Italian Space Agency that will help researchers, as well as commercial and government clients. Three other satellites featured a vehicle programmed to analyze zodiacal light and capture the Milky Way, the launch company called Arianespace said.

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