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SpaceWatchGL Share: How Europe’s CHEOPS Satellite Will Improve The Hunt For Exoplanets

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Artist’s impression of CHEOPS in orbit above Earth. On this view the satellite tv for pc’s telescope cowl is closed. Picture courtesy of ESA / ATG medialab.

By Jason Steffen, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Whereas the planet has been on lockdown the final two months, a brand new house telescope known as CHEOPS opened its eyes, took its first footage of the heavens and is now open for enterprise.

The CHEOPS mission provides a novel twist within the science that the general public usually associates with planet discovery missions like Kepler and TESS. Kepler and TESS produced many groundbreaking discoveries and introduced the variety of identified exoplanets into the hundreds – so many who we’ve solely scratched the floor of what we will be taught from them. Consequently, fairly than merely discovering extra planets, the first goal of CHEOPS is to raised perceive the planets that we’ve already discovered.

I have been in the exoplanet field for the higher a part of twenty years. For many of that point I had the great fortune to work on NASA’s Kepler mission. Amongst Kepler’s main discoveries is the baffling array of planets that it discovered. Two prime examples are the hundreds of planets whose sizes fall within the hole between Earth and Neptune. Kepler also found planets with orbits which are only some hours lengthy. None of those planets has counterparts within the photo voltaic system. What these planets are like, how they type and the way they arrived at their present state are issues of ongoing analysis. To raised perceive these planets, we have to have higher measurements of their properties – their sizes, plenty, composition and atmospheres. Astronomers will flip to CHEOPS to fill these gaps in our information.

CHEOPS mission overview

A joint Swiss-ESA mission, CHEOPS, the “Characterizing Exoplanet Satellite tv for pc,” will make key measurements of the dimensions and albedo (reflectivity) of planets that orbit distant stars. CHEOPS launched in December of 2019 from the northern coast of South America, hitching a journey as a secondary passenger on an enormous Soyuz rocket.

The problem with many of the planets found by the Kepler mission is that they orbit faint stars, making them troublesome to watch with any telescope apart from Kepler itself (which has completed its work and is now not working). CHEOPS, however, will observe planets orbiting shiny stars that haven’t been studied with the extent of element as soon as offered by Kepler, and that CHEOPS is now capable of present. These planets are extra amenable to the big variety of complementary observations from devices on different telescopes – giving new insights into the character of those lately found planets.

CHEOPS was positioned in a “Solar-synchronous” orbit the place it stays continuously above the Earth’s terminator – the road on the Earth that separates day from night time. The satellite tv for pc observes planets as they transit in entrance of their host stars utilizing a 32-centimeter mirror. The telescope is 10 occasions smaller than Kepler, however since it can observe brighter stars, it will probably obtain a precision just like Kepler – a truth demonstrated throughout its commissioning stage. And as a substitute of repeatedly (and concurrently) observing 100 thousand stars so as to uncover new planets, CHEOPS seems to be at particular person targets when and the place the planet is understood to be there.

CHEOPS obtains its first exoplanet gentle curve.
Picture courtesy of ESA/Airbus/CHEOPS, CC BY-SA

Science from the CHEOPS mission

For the brightest Solar-like stars, CHEOPS can measure the sizes of planets as small because the Earth by seeing the fraction of the starlight that’s blocked by the planet because it passes in entrance of the star. The improved measurements of planet sizes permit scientists to find out a planet’s density, giving insights into its composition and inside construction. In addition they set up the important thing relationship between planetary sizes and their plenty, which tells us extra in regards to the traits shared by planets throughout many methods.

Along with planet sizes, CHEOPS can measure a planet’s “part curve,” the variation in brightness because of the altering profile of the planet because it orbits its host star (just like the altering phases of the Moon). The part curve tells us how a lot gentle is mirrored by the planet and, due to this fact, a number of the properties of its floor, ambiance and clouds. This info, in flip, can inform us extra in regards to the circumstances that may exist below the cloud tops and at a planet’s floor. Lastly, since CHEOPS targets are shiny, they’re good candidates for detailed observations of their atmospheres utilizing giant ground-based and space-based telescopes (just like the Extremely Large Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope).

In the end, by higher understanding the properties of planets orbiting different stars, astronomers can higher perceive the character of the planets in our personal photo voltaic system. We are going to higher see how our planetary siblings match into the broader context of planets within the galaxy and the way our formation and historical past is just like, or completely different from, these alien worlds.

[You’re good and curious in regards to the world. So are The Dialog’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend.]The Conversation

Jason Steffen, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

This text is republished from The Conversation below a Artistic Commons license. Learn the original article.

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