Chinese scientists have proposed a project to hunt for habitable Earth-like planets outside our solar system through a space telescope. This is will be the world’s first space mission specially designed to search for habitable planets in the universe.
The proposed project will involve surveying the sky through a space-borne telescope to hunt for habitable planets about 32 light-years from Earth. The project is named Closeby Habitable Exoplanet Survey (CHES).
One of the key aims of the fundemental research in astronomy is the exploration of habitable planets outside the solar system.
World’s First Habitable Planet Search Mission
The world’s first habitable planet search mission named ‘Closeby Habitable Exoplanet Survey‘ will observe about 100 Sun-like stars 32 light-years away on a long-term survey. The project aims to discover roughly 50 Earth-like planets or super-Earths. Super Earths are planets that are up to about 10 times the mass of Earth.
Objective of CHES Mission
The project will seek answers to some of the most important questions including- ‘Are we alone in the universe’ and ‘How can planets become the cradle of life’?
According to a research professor from the Purple Mountain Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Ji Jianghui, more than 5,000 exoplanets have been discovered and confirmed so far, including around 50 Earth-like planets in the habitable zone. However, most of these are hundreds of light-years away from Earth.
“The discovery of the nearby habitable worlds will be a great breakthrough for humankind, and will also help humans visit those Earth twins and expand our living space in the future,” Ji added.
How will CHES work?
- The project will observe the Sun-like stars and look for planets that are similar in size, orbit and habitability to Earth.
- It will conduct an extensive survey on the number, true planetary masses and three-dimensional orbits of those habitable planets,
- It will measure the micro-arcsecond-level angular separation of a target star relative to six to eight standard reference stars.
- As per the project proposal, a 1.2-meter-aperture optical telescope with high stability, image quality and low distortion will be placed into a Halo orbit at the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Sun-Earth system.
- The telescope will maintain a stable operation period of at least five years in that orbit and explore approximately 100 Sun-like stars, with each of them being observed at least 50 times.
- The Halo orbit is less affected by Earth’s gravity and the thermal radiation environment is relatively stable. Hence, the satellite will be able to work a longer time with little fuel consumption.
- The preliminary investigations for the project have been carried out by a team composed of several Chinese research institutes and supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
- The scientists are expected to invite astronomers from across the world to participate in the research.
Habitable Planets in the Universe
Researchers have discovered over 4,000 exoplanets since the first such world was confirmed orbiting a sunlike star in 1995. Over half of these discoveries were made using NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which was launched in 2009 to determine how common Earth-like planets are throughout our Milky Way galaxy.
What is the meaning of Habitable Planet?
Habitable planet means a planet that is potentially life-friendly and for that it must be relatively small, rocky and orbit in the “habitable zone” of its star, which is location where water can exist in liquid form on a world’s surface. The planet’s atmospheric conditions and its parent star also play a role in it being tagged as habitable or Earth-like.