UK team to lead mission to study new planets

Posted on 18 Apr 2018 and read 885 times
UK team to lead mission to study new planetsA multi-million-pound European mission to study newly discovered planets will be led by University College London, supported by investment from the UK Space Agency.

The ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey) mission was recently selected as the next European Space Agency (ESA) science mission, putting the UK at the heart of research into planets that are outside
our solar system — exoplanets.

Thousands of exoplanets have been discovered, but very little is known about their chemical composition, their formation or their evolutionary links to their host stars.

ARIEL will carry out the first ever large-scale survey of exoplanets specifically to examine their atmospheres.

It will study hot Jupiter-size planets close to their stars and thereby help scientists to understand the processes that form planetary systems and affect how they evolve.

Science Minister Sam Gyimah said: “Space is our final frontier; working with UCL, we want to be at the forefront of discovering new planets.

“British involvement in this incredibly exciting new mission demonstrates how integral our world-leading scientific expertise is in solving some of space’s greatest mysteries.”

The ESA’s Science Programme Committee chose ARIEL for the fourth medium-class science mission (M4) in its Cosmic Vision Programme.

Subject to further review, the UK Space Agency will provide a multi-million-pound investment package to support UK leadership of the project.

The mission’s Principal Investigator is Giovanna Tinetti, from University College London, who will lead the mission science.

STFC RAL Space will manage the consortium building the payload, which will be assembled and tested in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

Other UK involvement will come from Cardiff University, Oxford University and the UK Astronomy Technology Centre. UK industry can also expect to be involved in the satellite’s construction and operations.

Paul Eccleston of STFC RAL Space said: “It is wonderful news that ESA has selected ARIEL for the next medium-class science mission.

“It will revolutionise our understanding of how planetary systems form and evolve, helping us put our own solar system into context and compare it to our neighbours in the galaxy.”

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