Europe's Cheops To Look For Habitable Planets

The European Space Agency has just approved a space mission to search for habitable planets. It plans on launching a new space telescope called Cheops (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite). It will build up a list of exoplanets for astronomers to further analyze.


(Cheops (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite))

To do this it will target nearby stars that ground-based telescopes have already shown to boast planets in orbit around them. From its vantage point in space, Cheops will be free of the distorting effects of Earth's atmosphere. Not only will it be able to analyse those worlds more precisely than is yet possible, it will also look for smaller planets around those stars that are impossible to see from the ground.

...to make progress, we need a mission capable of pivoting from star to star, to draw up a target list closer to home. Cheops is that mission.

It will look for the dip in light as a planet moves across the face of its parent star. It will detect planets down to the mass of the Earth and will have the sensitivity to show which planets have dense atmospheres. These will be the natural targets for the giant ground-based telescopes, and the next generation of space telescopes, that will analyse those atmospheres for signs of life.

The mission was officially approved last Friday, 19 October 2012, and is scheduled for launch in 2017. It will cost ESA no more than 50 million Euros, although additional funds can be used from elsewhere.

Fans of the Golden Age of science fiction may recall that Edmond Hamilton wrote about this idea in his thrilling 1936 short story Cosmic Quest:

I was near enough it now to set my automatic astronomical instruments to searching it for a habitable planet.

These instruments were the wonderful ones our astronomers had perfected. With super-telescopic eyes each one scanned a part of the star field before them. And each mechanical eye, when it found planetary systems in its field, automatically shifted upon them a higher powered telespectroscope which recorded on permanent film the size, mean temperature and atmospheric conditions of these worlds.
(Read more about Hamilton's search for habitable planets)


(The telespectroscope recorded the conditions of these other worlds)

Via The Guardian.

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