The European Space Agency has approved ARIEL’s mission to study the chemical composition of planets outside the solar system – in particular, to identify potentially habitable sites. Estonian scientists also play an important role in the mission, err. ee writes.
The solar system is not the only one in the universe. Outside of this planetary system, celestial bodies are also detected, which are commonly called exoplanets. To date, astronomers know about the existence of about 5000 such planets. The new pan-European mission ARIEL is designed to study in detail the chemical composition of the atmosphere of these planets.
“Thanks to the ARIEL project, we at least want to find out how many planets have an atmosphere. In the best case, we want to find out if the planets with these types of the atmosphere are suitable for life,” says Tõnis Enemäe, a researcher at the Observatory of the University of Tartu.
In 2029, a space telescope called ARIEL will be launched into space approximately 1.5 million km from the Earth. It will study exoplanets while they transit through the mother star disk. At this point, the telescope’s spectrograph will analyze the light from the atmosphere and thus study its composition. Detecting the signs of water vapor, carbon dioxide or methane, may mean that the planet is livable. In addition, the ARIEL mission will help to understand the origin and development of the planet. The scientists of the Tartu Observatory have already started work on the project, and there are two important tasks on their shoulders.