The Ariel mission (Atmospheric Remote-Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey) has been officially adopted by the Space Programme Committee of the European Space Agency (ESA). This marks the beginning of the spacecraft and scientific instruments development phase. The project is the result of a five year endeavour by a Consortium of 50 Research Institutes from 17 European Countries, with an external contribution from NASA.
Main purpose of the mission is the study of the atmospheres of planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. Ariel consists of a space telescope that will observe a diverse sample of exoplanets–gas giants, Neptune-like and super-Earths–in the visible and infrared light wavelengths.
Ariel will be the first space mission to survey the chemical composition of exoplanets atmospheres, providing fundamental details for the understanding of planetary formation and evolution, providing a larger context to our Solar System and possibly shedding light on the complex issue of the origin of life in the Universe.
Italy is among the primary contributors, with a team of scientists from the National Institute of Astrophysics (Inaf), Università di Firenze and Roma “La Sapienza” and the Institute for Photonics and Nanotechnologies (Ifn) of the National Research Council of Italy (Cnr).
Researchers at the Cnr-Ifn in Padova are especially involved in the design of the Ariel telescope aluminum mirrors, which pose a specific technological challenge due to their large size.
«Ariel mission adoption by ESA is the result of a great effort from the international scientific community, to which Italy gave a significant contribution. In particular, Ariel is giving many young researchers the opportunity to be involved in a vast international project, growing their scientific career without leaving the country», explains Giusi Micela, principal investigator of Ariel in Italy.
«Following the development of the different phases of a space mission is a privilege and a personal and professional achievement» says Paolo Chioetto, optical engineering researcher at the Cnr-Ifn in Padova. «I am very excited that an instrument I’m working on will travel so far away and contribute to the study of alien worlds.»
Ariel is an international project coordinated by Giovanna Tinetti from the University College of London. The Italian contribution is directed by Giusi Micela of Inaf Palermo and Giuseppe Malaguti of Inaf Bologna (co-principal investigators), Emanuele Pace of Università di Firenze (national project manager), and is supported by a large team of researchers from additional national institutions. Support and project coordination is provided by the Italian Space Agency.
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