China detects potentially Earth-like planet

China detects potentially Earth-like planet

 China is planning an exploratory mission to an alien planet in search of a habitable place like Earth. The plan would be to launch a spacecraft to make ultra-precise measurements of planets orbiting in space. For the mission, called the Closeby Habitable Exoplanet Survey (CHES), scientists will use a method called micro-arcsecond relative astrometry. This method will provide estimates of the masses of the exoplanets and the distances at which they orbit their stars. Later when it enters its turn, it can reveal whether this exoplanet has the potential to host life. 

The European Space Agency's Gaia space telescope used the same method to create a 3D map of the one billion stars in the Milky Way. Other planet-searching missions, such as NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, use a different technique, called the transit method. It aims to look for a decrease in the luminosity of the star as the planet passes through it. CHES will be much more focused than Gaia, targeting 100 sun-like stars within 10 parsecs, or 33 light years, of Earth. The mission is expected to be able to detect potentially Earth-like planets in the habitable zone around these stars. 

When surveying a relatively narrow selection of stars, CHES will be able to study the exoplanet system comprehensively. CHES will do its work from the sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2, about 930,000 miles or the equivalent of 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. The location is where the Gaia, Spektr-RG and James Webb Space Telescope currently operate. "CHES will be a wonderful addition to exoplanet exploration," said Elizabeth Tasker, a professor at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. 

Tasker said measuring a planet's mass would provide valuable data about the diversity and formation of other planets around Earth. While CHES cannot probe the surfaces of these planets to see if they have an Earth-like environment, direct mass measurements provide an important indicator of which planets can, or definitely don't, Earth-like.
"Higher-mass planets will attract thicker atmospheres than Earth, potentially containing gases like hydrogen and helium, which are very good at trapping heat," he said. The habitability potential of terrestrial planets from the discoveries made by CHES could be further investigated by other teams. The mission appears to be competing with other exoplanet proposals from the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, also under CAS. 

"The hunt for habitable planets about nearby sun-like stars will be a major breakthrough for mankind, and will also help humans expand our living space in the future," said a research professor from the Purple Mountain Observatory at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and CHES mission principal investigator, Ji Jianghui, quoted from Space, Monday (6/6). "To date, more than 5,000 exoplanets have been discovered and confirmed so far, including about 50 Earth-like planets in the habitable zone, but most of them are hundreds of light years from Earth," he added.

 The mission, dubbed Earth 2.0, will use the transit method to monitor 1.2 million dwarf stars, in an effort to detect exoplanets and narrow the search for potential Earth twins. The mission will also operate from Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2. Both proposals are part of the third round of the Strategic Priority Research Program under CAS. These two proposals, along with mission proposals in other areas, including extreme energy physics, planetary science, heliophysics, and Earth observations, are expected to be reviewed soon.

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