(ORDO NEWS) — China may soon begin its first space exoplanet hunt if the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory’s (SAO) proposal wins approval this summer.
The Earth 2.0 telescope will spend four years orbiting the Sun and Earth at Lagrange Point 2, about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. There, he will set up seven telescopes in a patch of sky towards the galactic center and watch for signs of dimming as planets pass or orbit the star.
The main objects are planets roughly the size of the Earth with similar orbits around stars similar to the Sun. This requires high sensitivity to detect signals from minor planet transits, as well as long-term monitoring to observe planets that pass around their star in an Earth year.
The Earth 2.0 telescope will not be able to independently confirm the presence of the Earth’s twin; rather, it will measure planet sizes and orbital periods to identify candidates for follow-up observations for potential habitability, said Ge Jian, a CAO professor.
“These planet candidates can be followed with ground-based telescopes to obtain radial velocity measurements to determine their mass and density,” Gae said. “Some of these candidate planets around bright stars can be tracked using ground-based or space-based spectroscopy to obtain transmission spectra of the planets to study the composition of their atmospheres.”
The mission will continue to observe an area of space that NASA‘s Kepler Space Telescope has been studying for nine years, but the Earth 2.0 telescope will have a much larger field of view, which means it will be able to observe a larger area and more stars, Ge said.
The Kepler field of view was 115 square degrees; it has observed half a million stars and discovered 2,392 exoplanets, with a similar number of candidate planets pending confirmation. Although the telescope has found several terrestrial planets, none of them around sun-like stars is a potential twin of the Earth.
In comparison, the Earth 2.0 telescope will cover an area of 500 square degrees and observe 1.2 million dwarf stars over four years using six of the seven telescopes with a 30 centimeter aperture.
For comparison, the apparent area of the Moon in the sky is about 0.5 square degrees, while the area of the entire sky is about 41,000 square degrees. The telescope will also be able to observe dimmer and more distant stars, which will expand its capabilities.
“Because the transit method is a statistical game, the more suitable solar-type stars you look for, the higher the chance of finding Earth 2.0,” Ge said. If there is a 10% chance of Earth 2.0, then we need to find about 2,000 relatively bright and quiet solar-type stars to detect an Earth 2.0 transit.
” “Our simulations show that we expect to find about 30,000 new planets, including about 5,000 Earth like in the ET [Earth 2.0 Telescope] mission,” Ge said, adding that the six-telescope design and better signal-to-noise ratio detectors would also enhance its capabilities.
The seventh telescope, meanwhile, will have the sensitivity to detect cold or free-floating rocky planets – also known as rogue planets – the size of Mars by looking for the effect of the planet’s gravity bending starlight as it passes by. It will also be able to detect cold planets orbiting stars at distances comparable to those at which Mars and Neptune orbit the Sun.
The ability of the Earth 2.0 telescope to continue the research started by Kepler and extend it to planets in longer, colder orbits is incredibly exciting,” says Elizabeth Tasker, associate professor at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
“Our current discoveries of exoplanets have not yet been able to thoroughly explore these regions, leaving us unable to properly examine the data to look for trends and patterns that could tell us about how planets form, including rocky worlds in Earth-like orbits.”
Tasker and her students used machine learning to try to identify patterns.Better data will help reveal trends that can provide valuable insights into planetary formation.
“This mission will provide a lot of data for the international planet-hunting communities to study, as well as candidate planets for further research to measure their properties such as mass, density and atmospheric composition,” Ge said.
The Earth 2.0 telescope will be able to find Earth-sized worlds in orbits similar to our planet’s. “This is the first step towards finding a planet that could be habitable,” Tasker said.
But the radius and orbit of a planet by themselves do not tell us the state of its surface. “Such a planet could very well have the conditions of Venus or Mars on its surface, or maybe something even more alien,” Tasker said.
“To know if a planet is like Earth and if it could be habitable or even habitable, we’ll have to wait until we can probe the atmosphere or even surface properties.”
Earth 2.0 is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ space satellite research program. Other mission proposals compete for funding in areas such as astronomy and space sciences, solar and space physics, planetary sciences, and Earth observation.
A funding decision is expected in June. If the Earth Telescope 2.0 mission is chosen, the team will begin preparing the satellite for launch in 2026. The competition also includes another proposal to search for exoplanets by measuring how a star wobbles around the system’s center of mass under the influence of the planets’ gravity.
China has only recently begun to develop its own space science missions, while other areas of space activity – such as human spaceflight, lunar exploration, remote sensing and communications – have been flourishing for years. China’s first round of space science missions included the Wukong dark matter probe, the hard X-ray modulated telescope and the Mozi quantum science satellite, which were launched between 2015 and 2017.
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