APR 20, 2020 10:45 AM PDT

Here's How the ESA's CHEOPS Mission Works

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Exoplanetary detections have exploded exponentially since the first discovery of one by Swedish astronomers in 1995. The first specimen, a distant world called 51 Pegasi b (or Dimidium), laid the groundwork for what astronomers call hot Jupiter-like exoplanets. These worlds are massive and gassy like Jupiter, and in many cases, this class of exoplanet orbits its host star so closely that it absorbs tons of heat in the process.

But not all exoplanets are Jupiter-like. A smaller subset of them are terrestrial and Earth-like, and as you might come to expect, these types of exoplanets are more difficult to discern, much less study, because they’re both tiny and distant. That’s where the European Space Agency’s CHaracterizing ExOPlanets Satellite (CHEOPS) mission comes into play.

CHEOPS doesn’t search for new exoplanets, but rather attempts to make more detailed observations of known Earth-like exoplanets, called ‘super-Earths.’ Exoplanets of this variety are rocky like Earth but can vary in size between that of Earth and that of Neptune ­­(hence the ‘super’ part of the name). 

CHEOPS takes advantage of a heliosynchronous orbit around Earth, which means that it rides the polarizing line between dawn and dusk around our planet. During some parts of its orbit, the spacecraft maintains a line of sight with the Sun, permitting its solar panels to absorb power. In the other parts of its orbit, it peers deep into space, taking full advantage of the lack of obfuscating sunlight.

The CHEOPS spacecraft attempts to observe exoplanets in a rather unconventional way, snapping blurry images instead of sharp ones. This helps astronomers measure the light a star puts off, so they can determine fluctuations that result as the exoplanet orbits its star. CHEOPS can also measure what’s called a phase curve, which can help astronomers discern an exoplanet’s chemical composition by the amount of light it reflects.

Given the rising interest in finding other potentially habitable worlds like Earth, CHEOPS just might be one of the most effective ways to accomplish this task. It should be interesting to see what it finds.

Related: Everything you need to know about exoplanets

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JUL 07, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Should We Fly By Venus on the Way to Mars?
JUL 07, 2020
Should We Fly By Venus on the Way to Mars?
After landing on the Moon, heading to Mars became the next logical step for space exploration. Some suggest that flying ...
JUL 31, 2020
Space & Astronomy
How Many Missions to Mars Have Been Successful?
JUL 31, 2020
How Many Missions to Mars Have Been Successful?
It’s commonly said that roughly half of all missions to Mars have succeeded- while roughly half have failed. But a ...
AUG 14, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Cosmic Rays Might Have Played a Role in Shaping Our Genetic Materials
AUG 14, 2020
Cosmic Rays Might Have Played a Role in Shaping Our Genetic Materials
DNA, whose signature double helix structure scored Watson and Crick (and Frankland presumably according to many) a Nobel ...
OCT 03, 2020
Space & Astronomy
NASA Launches $23m Toilet to Space Station
OCT 03, 2020
NASA Launches $23m Toilet to Space Station
On late October 2nd, NASA launched a spacecraft carrying 4 tonnes of cargo, including scientific equipment, food hardwar ...
NOV 20, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
The Passing of a Neutrino Hunting Pioneer
NOV 20, 2020
The Passing of a Neutrino Hunting Pioneer
Masatoshi Koshiba, a revered Japanese physicist known for his groundbreaking work on cosmic neutrino detection, passed a ...
NOV 22, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Solar Power Stations in Space Could Answer Global Energy Needs
NOV 22, 2020
Solar Power Stations in Space Could Answer Global Energy Needs
W/hile renewable energy technologies have developed exponentially in recent years, a major barrier towards their adoptio ...
Loading Comments...