Mission: To discover exoplanets

October 25, 2012 by Uni Berne
In 2017, a satellite named CHEOPS will be placed into orbit with the task of observing planets orbiting in other solar systems. Developed by researchers at EPFL, the device is part of a Swiss space research project selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) and led by the University of Bern. Credit: EPFL

This small satellite of primarily Swiss design was chosen above twenty-five other projects. Named CHEOPS for "CHaracterizing ExOPlanet Satellite," the selection of this device was just announced by the European Space Agency (ESA). This satellite, which will be put in orbit in 2017, is the result of collaboration between the University of Bern and the University of Geneva, EPFL, and ETHZ. It will also receive technical support from institutes in Belgium, Great Britain, Italy, Austria, Sweden, and possibly other European countries that demonstrate interest. In terms of EPFL, the Swiss Space Center will work on the design of the device.

CHEOPS will be equipped with a telescope of a meter and a half in length that has a diameter of 30 centimeters. It will be placed into orbit at an altitude of 800 kilometers, on the frontier between day and night. From there, over the course of three years it will observe some 500 particularly bright stars and gather as much information as possible about their planets. To do this, it will use the method of detecting transits, in other words, diminishing brightness when the planet passes between its star and the earth. Although minute, these movements are detectible by sharp instruments such as the telescope from this Swiss project.

Gas or Telluric

For these measurements, researchers can calculate the diameter of planets that eclipse their stars. This complementary detection method, called radial velocity, measures their mass. In combining these two pieces of information, one can determine both the density of these objects and whether they are more likely gaseous, like Jupiter or Saturn, or telluric, like Mars or Earth. The first exoplanet, 51 Peg b, was discovered in 1995 by two astronomers of the of Geneva, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. Since then, planets that are small and increasingly difficult to detect have been added to the discoveries.

Explore further: Increasing the odds of the sweep

Related Stories

Increasing the odds of the sweep

October 4, 2006

Using ESO's Very Large Telescope, astronomers have confirmed the extrasolar planet status of two of the 16 candidates discovered by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. One of the two confirmed exoplanets has a mass a little ...

COROT and the new chapter of planetary searches

November 14, 2006

The launch of COROT on 21 December 2006 is a long awaited event in the quest to find planets beyond our Solar System. Searching from above the Earth's atmosphere, COROT – the CNES project with ESA participation - will be ...

First temperate exoplanet sized up (w/ Video)

March 17, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Combining observations from the CoRoT satellite and the ESO HARPS instrument, astronomers have discovered the first “normal” exoplanet that can be studied in great detail. Designated Corot-9b, the planet ...

50 new exoplanets discovered by HARPS

September 12, 2011

Astronomers using ESO's world-leading exoplanet hunter HARPS have today announced a rich haul of more than 50 new exoplanets, including 16 super-Earths, one of which orbits at the edge of the habitable zone of its star. By ...

Cheops to study super-earths

October 22, 2012

(Phys.org)—Studying planets around other stars will be the focus of the new small Science Programme mission, Cheops, ESA announced today. Its launch is expected in 2017.   Cheops – for CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite ...

Recommended for you

NASA selects investigations for future key planetary mission

October 1, 2015

NASA has selected five science investigations for refinement during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for flight opportunities as early as 2020. Three of those chosen have ties to NASA's Jet Propulsion ...

Dawn team shares new maps and insights about Ceres

October 1, 2015

Mysteries and insights about Ceres are being discussed this week at the European Planetary Science Conference in Nantes, France. NASA's Dawn spacecraft is providing scientists with tantalizing views and other data about the ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.