CHEOPS’s instruments have been turned on for the purpose of finding Earth-like Planets

CHEOPS, the newest space telescope of the European Space Agency (ESA), was launched on 18 December 2019 so that exoplanets close to Earth can be studied in detail. The goal is to identify possible Earth-like planets which possess the conditions which allow for the emergence of life. In the weeks since the launch, the first correction manoeuver was performed, and on 8 January 2020 CHEOPS’s on-board instruments were activated for the first time. The telescope cover will be opened on 27 January. Hungarian experts contributed to the construction of CHEOPS, and they are also participating in the scientific project.

23 January 2020

After finding thousands of exoplanets, the primary goal is not to search for yet more planets, but to discover such Earth-like planets where the conditions for the emergence of life are met. The construction of the CHEOPS space telescope and the execution of the measurement procedure was an important step toward accomplishing this goal.

Organised by the University Of Bern, the CHEOPS Consortium came to fruition through important contributions from many countries, including financial support for the construction of the space telescope. The total cost of the CHEOPS project was around 100 million euros. Besides Belgian, British, German, Italian, Austrian and Swedish institutions and companies, Hungary also joined the Consortium as the only participants from the EU13 region.

Hungarian Contribution
Admatis Ltd., Miskolc, the CSFK Konkoly Thege Miklós Astronomical Institute, and the ELTE Gothard Astrophysical Observatory are participating in the CHEOPS project. Admatis’s experts designed and constructed the cooling radiators, which transfer the heat produced by the operation of the CCD camera mounted on the telescope away from the detector, and the control electronics, which facilitate maximum measurement accuracy. With this 56-kilogram mass instrument, 1.2 kilograms of Hungarian components were launched.

Over the last six years since the establishment of the Consortium, Hungarian scientists participating in the CHEOPS project have mainly been involved in developing observation methods concerning moons revolving around exoplanets (exomoons), selecting targets to observe, and developing observational data analysis software. In CHEOPS’s main governing body, László Kiss (CSFK) and Gyula Szabó M. (ELTE GAO) represent Hungary, but Attila Simon, working at the University of Bern, also plays a meaningful role, contributing to the CHEOPS Project as an exomoon expert and software developer.

One-hundred promising targets
The heart of CHEOPS is a 32-centimeter mirror diameter optical telescope, which will measure the 100 pre-selected transiting exoplanets passing through the CCD detector in the focal plane. If required, a divergence from the original measurement programme is also possible, and in such a case it is a favourable circumstance that the space telescope can be turned to any direction in the sky. With previous space projects aimed at exoplanets, there was no such option.

The CHEOPS space telescope was launched on 18 December 2019 on a Soyuz-Fregat rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. CHEOPS entered its 710-kilometre high Sun-synchronous orbit following separation two-and-a-half hours after launch. CHEOPS is expected to operate for 3.5 years. During this time, it will capture the detailed light curve of a hundred of the already known 4,100 exoplanets in order to determine the size of these planets, their bulk density, and whether they have an atmosphere around them. Measurement data from the observations will be transmitted to Earth at a rate of 1.2 gigabits per day.

Among the hundreds of pre-selected targets, there are some larger than Earth (super Earths) and some almost Neptune-sized planets (mini Neptunes). The main goal of the mission is to determine whether some of these planets possess the conditions favourable for the sustenance of life as we know it. The measurement programme also includes some planetary systems. The examination of these systems provides help in terms of understanding the formation and progression of the Solar System. It is also possible to thoroughly study newly-found exoplanets based on observational data from TESS, as CHEOPS is capable of measuring the brightness of stars for a longer period than TESS.

For further information:

CHEOPS web site

Dr László L. Kiss, member of MTA
Director General of the CSFK
kiss [at] konkoly [dot] hu
+36 1 3919324

Dr Gyula Szabó, Doctor of MTA, Director
ELTE Gothard Astrophysical Observatory, Szombathely
szgy [at] gothard [dot] hu
+36 94 522 875

Tamás Bárczy
Manager, Admatis Ltd., Miskolc
tamas [dot] barczy [at] admatis [dot] com
+36 46 898 154