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Ariel: Exploring the atmospheres of exoplanets

Monitoring distant and diverse worlds

Ariel (Atmospheric remote-sensing infrared exoplanet large-survey) is a European Space Agency-led mission that will characterize more planets beyond our solar system than ever before. The space telescope will monitor these exoplanets atmosphere, ranging from rocky planets to gas giants, from a point in space called Lagrange 2, 1.5 million kilometres away from Earth, sharing this location with the James Webb Space Telescope. Ariel will study approximately a thousand such planets, measuring the molecules, clouds, winds in their atmospheres and their thermal structures.

Ariel will study exoplanets in two complementary ways: transit and emission spectroscopy.

  • Spectroscopy refers to splitting the colours of light, as with a prism. Ariel will focus on visible and infrared light, which are most informative for planets. When a planet transits in front of its host star, light from the star filters through the upper atmosphere of the planet and is imprinted with the signatures of atoms and molecules which can then be observed. This is the best way for astronomers to figure out what exoplanets are made of.
  • Emission spectroscopy means studying the light given off by the planet itself. Light tells us about the temperature at different places in the atmosphere.

By combining transit and emission spectroscopy, Ariel will paint a holistic picture of hundreds of exoplanets and their atmospheres.

Scientific objectives

Ariel is designed to:

Artist's impression of the ESA's Ariel exoplanet satellite. (Credit: Airbus)

Canada's contribution

Canada will supply components called cryoharnesses, which are crucial electrical data cables, connecting the telescope's complex imaging detector arrays to the spacecraft's computer. Cryoharnesses are optimized to transmit electrical signals without transmitting too much heat. While the detectors operate at very cold temperatures (40K or −230 °C) the computer is at "room temperature" (293K or 20 °C), therefore the cryoharnesses must be compatible with this challenging range of temperatures.

In fall , ABB Inc. was selected to develop this set of space-qualified power and data cables and their interfaces. ABB Inc. has contributed similar technology to other missions, notably for the James Webb Space Telescope.

For this investment, Canadian scientists will get to participate in important research.

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