The European Space Agency (ESA) has given the green light to the world’s first space telescope dedicated to studying how exoplanet atmospheres form and evolve.
Its mission is to understand the links between a planet’s chemistry and its environment by charting approximately 1,000 known planets outside our own solar system, arming scientists with a full picture of what exoplanets are made of, how they were formed and how they will evolve.
The Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey, or Ariel as it’s better known, has been put through a rigorous review process throughout 2020, and is now slated for launch in 2029.
Thanks to Government funding through the UK Space Agency, UK research institutions – including UCL, the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) RAL Space, Technology Department and UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Cardiff University and University of Oxford – are playing a critical role in the mission; providing leadership, contributing expertise, vital hardware and software and shaping its goals.
Once in orbit, Ariel will rapidly share its data with the general public – inviting space enthusiasts and budding Astronomers to use the data to help select targets and characterise stars.
Science Minister, Amanda Solloway, said:
“Thanks to government funding, this ambitious UK- led mission will mark the first large scale study of planets outside the solar system, and will enable our leading space scientists to answer critical questions on their formation and evolution. It is a testament to the brilliant work of the UK space industry, our incredible scientists and researchers led by University College London and RAL Space and our international partners that this mission is ‘lifting off’. I look forward to watching it progress towards launch in 2029.”