Exoplanet Exploration Lifts After £30m Ariel Grant

19th Oct 2022
Exoplanet Exploration Lifts After £30m Ariel Grant

Back on 18 June 2022, the UK Government revealed it would be making a £30 million investment in exoplanet exploration. The funds are being used in the development of a space telescope, helping the UK to take the lead in the race to explore exoplanets.

The telescope, named Ariel, will launch in 2029. The aim is to understand links between the chemistry of a planet, its host star, and its evolution, by characterising the atmosphere of 1,000 known planets outside of the solar system. 

Following the investment announcement, the list of exoplanets to be studied was presented in September. Also, on 10-12 October, a consortium meeting examined topics such as ties with the James Webb Space Telescope.

Exoplanet exploration chosen from 26 proposals 

A global consortium led by University College London (UCL) proposed Ariel, against a further 25 proposals. The European Space Agency (ESA) selected Ariel, with the UK leading the overall science of the mission, which involves 17 other countries.

George Freeman, the UK’s Science Minister, said the following:

“By investing £30 million and taking the helm of the entire Ariel consortium – the first time in a decade that we have secured leadership for a mission of this magnitude – we are putting the UK at the heart of international space research, providing new opportunities for space businesses and academics across the country.”

What can we expect from Ariel’s first mission?

The first space mission will be focused on the analysis of the 1,000 planets, providing a step-change in how we understand how exoplanets were formed, what they are made of, and how they will evolve. 

Scientific data will be released to the science community and the wider public at frequent intervals throughout the four-year planned operational phase. As a result, exoplanet exploration should become the realm of both professional and enthusiasts in the field.

Mission Consortium Principal Investigator for Ariel at UCL, Professor Giovanna Tinetti, explained:

“Ariel will be transformational in helping us understand the planets in our galaxy. By studying hundreds of diverse worlds in different environments, we will see our own planet in context, giving us a better sense of why Earth formed as it did.”

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