ESA’s CHEOPS Planet-Hunting Space Telescope is In Orbit

December 26, 2019

by Andreea Sterea

The hunt for exoplanets continues, as ESA successfully launched CHEOPS in orbit.

CHEOPS Is on the Hunt for Exoplanets

The CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite – CHEOPS – is the European Space Agency‘s newest achievement. After an one-day delay in launching due to a technical glitch, CHEOPS made it into orbit. The planet-hunting space telescope left Earth last week. Its mission is to measure the density, composition and size of exoplanets.

Why Is CHEOPS Studying Exoplanets?

In this day and age, we have knowledge of about 4,000 planets outside our solar system. CHEOPS will not likely answer the holy grail question of science “is anyone else out there?”, but it will push astrophysics and related sciences huge steps forward. 

The satellite’s mission is to orbit the Earth at a distance of about 435 miles and study the rocks that are orbiting stars shining many light years away. Besides creating a “family photo” of exoplanets, researchers want to learn more about the amount of light reflected from them. In turn, this could offer astrophysicists new insights about the exoplanets’ atmosphere or surface.

While the successful launch was a miraculous moment for all the scientists involved in the project, the real magic will unravel soon. According to Didier Queloz, 2019 Nobel Physics Prize winner and one of the two discoverers of the first exoplanet 24 years ago,

“The launch is an important moment, an emotional step, but the real magic moment for us will be when the first results arrive.

When Can We Expect the First Results from CHEOPS?

According to specialists at ESA, CHEOPS should send the preliminary results in a few months from now. The most important scientific breakthrough of CHEOPS is to unravel, if possible, the origins of our home planet. Of course, finding life out there would be the bonus we have all been waiting for quite some time!

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