Given Centauri Dreams‘s interest in exoplanet studies, it’s no surprise that when I write about the James Webb Space Telescope, it’s usually to fit the observatory into the overall study of other stellar systems. But of course JWST has been conceived to study everything from the earliest stars and galaxies to the ongoing birth of stars out of massive clouds of dust, not to mention objects within our own Solar System. JWST also offers us a real chance to probe exoplanet atmospheres around nearby M-dwarfs, but it is certainly not a dedicated exoplanet mission.
So while we hope for a successful launch in 2020, according to the evolving schedule, and look forward to finding plenty of JWST targets with the upcoming Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), let’s have a look at a new mission from the European Space Agency with a tight exoplanet focus. The Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) has just been selected as an ESA science mission scheduled for launch in 2028. Its reason for existence is to look at how planetary systems form and evolve.