The Cheops space telescope is ready to study exoplanets

The ESA satellite for the analysis of already known exoplanets is ready to go into action after the test phase. Ended despite the difficulties of the coronavirus emergency

cheops stelle pianeta
Artistic representation of the star HD 93396 and its planet KELT – 11 b ended up under the eyes of Cheops during the first test phases of the ESA mission (Photo: Esa)

Everything went fine. Cheops (Characterising Exoplanet Satellite), the satellite for the study of the exoplanets of the European Space Agency (Esa), has passed the exams, better than expected to be honest, and now he is ready to go to work. The same is the news Esa , which summarizes all the test phases that have been necessary from December to today to test the capabilities of the satellite and announce the start of the real operational phase for the end of the month, also identifying a series of targets on which the mission is ready to put eyes .

The main purpose of Cheops is, as the name suggests and as we told you, to draw up a little more detailed identity cards of exoplanets already seen ( and we have seen thousands of them), allowing for example to know more precisely their dimensions. This work, combined with the data already known, would allow to refine the hunt for exoplanets potentially habitable, remember from the University of Bern participating in the mission.

To understand if he was ready to do it, the researchers conducted a series of tests aimed at measuring the thermal stability and photometric performance of the space telescope, and have managed to show that Cheops has an accuracy in measuring the brightness of known stars greater than hoped. But not only that: part of the tests were conducted in the midst of the emergency from coronavirus . Being able to rely on a largely automatic control system, manageable from home, has allowed the work on Cheops to continue successfully, added Willy Benz of the University of Bern, principal investigator of the mission. Who added: Cheops is able to make five times more accurate measurements than possible from Earth.

To test it, in the final phase of the break-in of the satellite, Cheops has focused its eyes on a star three times larger than our sun and a little colder, Hd 93396 , distant 320 light years from Earth, and on its planet Kelt – 11 b . The telescope thus recorded the light curve coming from the star during the hours in which this exoplanet passed in front of it, therefore weakening it. Thanks to this, the researchers were able to estimate the size of the exoplanet (approximately 180 thousand km in diameter, with an uncertainty of 4300 km ), which appears so larger than Jupiter but with a smaller mass, probably due to its proximity to its star the researchers explain: “ It would float in water in a fairly large pool” , he commented David Ehrenreich, Cheops Mission Scientist of the University of Geneva.

Photo: Esa / Airbus / Cheops Mission Consortium

The next news that we will have from Cheops will now probably concern the exoplanet 55 Cancers, covered by an ocean of lava and the exoplanet GJ 436 b, renamed as a warm Neptune , conclude from ESA.

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