ESA Spacecraft ‘Ariel’ Will Look Into Distant Exoplanets

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March 24, 2018 11:41 pm Published by

Now that we’re improving our exoplanet-finding techniques (which can be tough when distant starlight tends to drown them out), we’ve gradually tracked down a whole lot of planets in other solar systems.

And while we’ve taken close looks at some of them, like the potentially habitable TRAPPIST-1 planets, we still don’t know too much about them and have to sometimes assume that they’re like the eight planets within our own solar system.

Which is why the European Space Agency (ESA) is sending a mission named “Ariel” to go study them.

And Ariel is no mermaid, it’s a very loose acronym for “Atmospheric Remote‐sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large‐survey” mission. Peculiar name aside, Ariel has an important job: to examine distant planets and figure out how they formed and changed over time, learn about their chemistries and atmospheres, with the end goal of determining how conditions suitable for life-sustaining planets could come about.

It’ll do this by taking a sample of 1,000 exoplanets detected throughout the night sky, and study them with tools like spectrometers and photometers which are near-infrared. And of course, a telescope, although that’s not always helpful with things as small and far away as exoplanets. Ariel will especially look at warmer planets, although it’s otherwise a mix of known rocky planets and gas giants

According to Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science, who said the following in a press release from the ESA:

Opening quote

“Ariel is a logical next step in exoplanet science, allowing us to progress on key science questions regarding their formation and evolution, while also helping us to understand Earth’s place in the Universe. Ariel will allow European scientists to maintain competitiveness in this dynamic field. It will build on the experiences and knowledge gained from previous exoplanet missions.”

Closing quote

Since Ariel was only just approved, it’ll be several years before it’s launched into space. As of now, the ESA is looking at a launch window of mid-2028. 

Ideally, we’ll know some more about exoplanets by that time, although there’s little chance we’ll be landing on one anytime soon

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