NASA Instrument to Complement Exoplanet Study

Press Release

The European Space mission is set to have new equipment on board from NASA that will broaden the scope of the agency’s study of hundreds of exoplanets, which are planets beyond our solar system.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is currently running the Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) mission. NASA’s equipment in the mission is called Contribution to ARIEL Spectroscopy of Exoplanets (CASE) and will add on the scientific capabilities of the ARIEL mission. In 2028, the ARIEL spacecraft is expected to launch with CASE equipment on board, which will be managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Leading the NASA team at JPL will be astrophysicist Mark Twain.

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator at the Science Mission Directorate, said that NASA is happy to collaborate with ESA to further the understanding of exoplanets and their atmospheres, shedding more light on their formation and evolution. He added that the more data collected from the exoplanets, the more understanding of our solar system we get, and the better scientists could search for planets with Earth-like conditions.

Four thousand exoplanets have so far been observed by the now-retired Kepler space telescope and the active Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). The exoplanets have been discovered by watching a transit, which is an event occurring when a planet’s passing dims the light of a star. ARIEL, in collaboration with CASE, will study the exoplanets more deeply through analysis of the chemical fingerprints of a planet’s atmosphere exposed to the light of its star.

To enable this study, ARIEL will observe light passing through the planets’ atmospheres, as well as the light emitted by the planets before and after the transits. There chemical fingerprints, also known as spectra, will facilitate the study of the atmosphere chemically, thermally, and their composition. These spectra are extremely tough to observe and require observation of stars for a long time. ARIEL will be entirely devoted to finding hundreds of exoplanets and their atmospheres. It will also have an infrared spectrometer to study frequencies of long wavelengths.

CASE is specially fitted with equipment sensitive to visible light and near-infrared light, and will additionally be observing clouds and exoplanet hazes and how they affect the composition and properties of their exoplanets. It will also measure the amount of reflected light from the exoplanets known as albedo.

The study will be focused on planets hotter than 320 degrees Celsius because they are more likely to transit the star than other planets farther out in orbit and also have shorter orbital periods, providing an opportunity to observe more transits.

This post was originally published on Financial Sector

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