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Current Affairs

Ariel Space Mission

Date: 15 November 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

The European Space Agency (ESA) has formally adopted Ariel, the explorer that will study the nature, formation, and evolution of exoplanets. 

 

Background

The existence of more than 4,000 exoplanets is considered confirmed, while there are thousands of other candidate exoplanets that need further observations.

 

Details

  • Only a handful of exoplanets have been found using telescopes and the rest have been detected using indirect methods. One of these methods involves tracking the dimming of a star that happens when a planet passes in front of it.

  • Other methods to track exoplanets include gravitational lensing and the “wobbling method”, which is based on the idea that an orbiting planet will cause its parent star to orbit slightly off-centre.

  • The search for exoplanets is driven by the possibility that life may exist beyond Earth and even if there is no evidence for this, scientists believe that their hunt for an answer will reveal details about where humans came from and where we’re headed.

 

Ariel Mission

  • Ariel (Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey), which scientists are planning to launch in 2029, will perform a large-scale survey of over a thousand exoplanets over a period of four years.

  • These thousand exoplanets will range from gas giants to rocky planets, which will help them to compile a list of their compositions and properties thereby providing insights about how planetary systems form and evolve.

  • Ariel is the first mission of its kind dedicated to measuring the chemical composition and thermal structures of hundreds of exoplanets.

  • Ariel will help to answer one of the key questions of ESA’s Cosmic Vision Plan, which is, “What are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life?”

 

Exoplanets

  • Planets that lie outside of the Solar System and orbit around stars other than the Sun are called exoplanets or extrasolar planets.

  • Exoplanets are not easy to detect since they are much less brighter than the stars they orbit and hence it is difficult to see them directly using telescopes.

  • Proxima Centauri b is the closest exoplanet to Earth and is four light-years away and inhabits the “habitable zone” of its star, which means that it could possibly have liquid water on its surface.

 

Gravitational Lensing

  • A gravitational lens can occur when a huge amount of matter, like a cluster of galaxies, creates a gravitational field that distorts and magnifies the light from distant galaxies that are behind it but in the same line of sight.

  • The effect is like looking through a giant magnifying glass. It allows researchers to study the details of early galaxies too far away to be seen with current technology and telescopes.