ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote-Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey) has been selected by the European Space Agency as its next medium class mission, scheduled for launch in 2028. We would like to congratulate our Science Lead, Prof Giovanna Tinetti, who is also the Principal Investigator for ARIEL, and all the ARIEL team on the announcement!
We are living in a golden era of exoplanet research. NASA’s TESS mission to look for new planets will be launched in a few weeks’ time. Upcoming planet-hunting missions like CHEOPS and PLATO will add to the list of more than 3,800 worlds orbiting other stars that have been discovered to date. General observatories, like the James Webb Space Telescope or E-ELT, will enable exoplanet researchers to glimpse into planetary atmospheres.
As a dedicated mission to characterise the atmospheres of more than a thousand exoplanets, ARIEL will take exoplanet research to a new level. It will carry out the first statistically significant and truly representative study of what kind of planets are out there. However, whilst ARIEL’s selection is very exciting news, it will be a decade before it starts collecting data.
Twinkle, which will launch early next decade, will provide the community with short-term answers. Like ARIEL, Twinkle will carry a spectrometer that will extract chemical fingerprints of gases in exoplanets’ atmospheres that become embedded in starlight when a planet passes in front or behind the star. Spectroscopy of exoplanet atmospheres is currently in its infancy. Scientists will be able to task Twinkle to observe bright and hot exoplanets that are visible from a Low Earth Orbit. With its new implementation model, Twinkle will enable a rapid, step-change in the data available to exoplanet researchers and give us a head-start in understanding these exotic, alien worlds.
With such a richness and diversity of missions, the exoplanet community will be kept busy for decades ahead!