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European Space Agency Announces ‘Ariel’ Mission That’ll Study Exoplanets

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In its next mission named Ariel, the European Space Agency will focus on planets orbiting stars in other systems otherwise known as exoplanets.

Ariel, an acronym meaning the Atmospheric Remote‐sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large‐survey mission, was selected by ESA as part of its Cosmic Vision Plan. It is the space agency's fourth medium-class science mission poised to launch in 2028.

ESA's Ariel Mission

In line with the Cosmic Vision, Ariel will try to determine the conditions that make a planet habitable, let alone be a breeding ground for life, like Earth is.

Modern science and technology have already helped humans discover thousands of exoplanets in various masses, sizes, and orbits. Exoplanets, however, remain steeped in mystery, and humans barely haven't scratched the surface yet.

"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," said Günther Hasinger, ESA science director.

One of the onboard tools in the Ariel mission is a telescope capable of operating in infrared and visible light to probe an exoplanet's atmosphere by virtue of infrared spectroscopy. It will also try to pick up chemical signatures to determine the vital elements needed for life as an exoplanet passes by its parent star during orbit.

Ariel will also detect carbon dioxide, methane, vapor, and metallic compounds on planets both hot and warm on roughly 1,000 types of exoplanets from super-Earths to gas giants.

Ariel will also analyze cloud dynamics and monitor changes on a daily and seasonal basis for planets that could potentially harbor life.

Ariel And Tess

The Ariel spacecraft will launch on the space agency's new Ariane 6 rocket from the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The design of the satellite is yet to be determined by another round of detailed mission study to finalize the design.

By contrast, NASA is scheduled to launch its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS later this year as the shutdown of the Kepler spacecraft looms. It will similarly focus on thousands of exoplanets orbiting around the brightest stars in the sky.

"This first-ever spaceborne all-sky transit survey will identify planets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, around a wide range of stellar types and orbital distances. No ground-based survey can achieve this feat," stated NASA.

Thrilled for the Ariel and Tess missions? Feel free to sound off your thoughts in the comments section below.

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