A European satellite has been launched into space from French Guiana to explore planets outside our solar system – so-called exoplanets.
The telescope, which was named Cheops, was postponed by the Russian Soyuz craft and will observe stars outside the solar system known to have planets, according to the European Space Agency Esa. It aired on Wednesday morning, a day later than planned, as technical problems were discovered just over an hour before the scheduled departure on Tuesday.
The telescope measures 30 cm in diameter and has been designed to measure the density, composition and size of several planets.
The goal is to study how the planets are constructed, which is considered a major step in the work of figuring out what is needed for life in places other than the earth. It can make it easier to understand the origin of our own planet.
“A first step”
However, it is unlikely that the question of the existence of life on other planets will be answered.
“But to understand the origin of life, we need to understand the geophysics of these planets,” said Didier Queloz, one of this year’s Nobel laureates in physics.
– It’s like taking a first step on a big staircase.
Since he and his colleague Michel Mayor identified the first exoplanet named 51 Pegasi b 24 years ago, around 4,000 others have been discovered.
The project “represents a step toward better understanding the astrophysics of all these strange planets that we have discovered and which have no equivalent in our solar system,” Queloz said on Tuesday.
Scientists estimate that there are at least as many galaxies as there are stars, about 100 billion.
“We want to go beyond the statistics and study them in detail,” said researcher David Ehrenreich before the launch.
The satellite with the telescope, a cube with about 1.5 meter sides, will be in orbit around the earth at 70 miles away and study objects several light years away. The researchers want to create “a family photo of exoplanets” through the project, says the Space Agency’s research director Guenther Hasinger.
The first results from Cheops are expected in a few months.
Cheops stands for Characterising Exoplanets Satellite
The satellite transmitted is about 1.5 meters in the form of a cube and weighs about 290 kilos. The telescope is 30 centimeters in diameter.
Swedish researchers who have contributed in various ways to the project come from Chalmers, Stockholm University and Lund University. They have been working on the project since 2011.
Cheop’s lifespan is estimated at 3.5 years, but the goal is 5 years.
The cost of the Esa project is about EUR 50 million.