This column was written by my colleague Elizabeth Tasker, now at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Institute of Space and Aeronautical Sciences (ISAS). Trained as an astrophysicist, she researches planet and galaxy formation and also writes on space science topics. Her book, “The Planet Factory,” came out last year.
The Ariel space telescope will explore the atmospheres of exoplanets. (Artist impression, ESA)
The European Space Agency (ESA) has approved the ARIEL space mission—the world’s first dedicated exoplanet atmosphere sniffer— to fly in 2028.
ARIEL stands for the “Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-Survey
mission.” It is a space telescope that can detect which atoms and molecules are
present in the atmosphere of an exoplanet.
The mission was selected as a medium class mission in the ESA Cosmic Vision
program; the agency’s decadal plan for space missions that spans 2015 – 2025.
One of the central themes for Cosmic Vision is uncovering the conditions for planet
formation and the origins of life. This has resulted in three dedicated exoplanet
missions within the same decadal plan. ARIEL will join CHEOPS (in the small class
mission category) and PLATO (another medium class mission) in studying worlds
beyond our own Sun.