Known for technological ingenuity and bold missions that have taken them to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, China has plans to go farther and deeper into space. Beijing now wants to find an alternative home — Earth 2.0.
Beijing is planning a mission that will look for exoplanets beyond our solar system. The main goal of this assignment is to find a world in the habitable zone of its star in the Milky Way galaxy. Earth 2.0 as the mission is being called, aims to find a similar planet to the one we currently inhabit, which is also predicted to face catastrophic situations in the coming decades.
Earth 2.0, according to a report in Nature, has been conceptualised by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is in the early design phase. The plan is set o go under the hammer in June as a team of experts review the proposed mission and, if cleared, the development phase will kick in that will bring in funding to initiate the building phase of the satellite.
STARING INTO THE UNKNOWN
The telescope will look for exoplanets deep in space, outside our solar system, in hopes of finding the chemical signs that are responsible for triggering life. According to the report, the mission will be equipped with seven telescopes that will scan a patch of sky similar to the one observed by the Kepler mission.
“The Kepler field is low-hanging fruit because we have very good data from there. Our satellite can be 1015 times more powerful than Nasa’s Kepler telescope in its sky-surveying capacity,” Jian Ge, the lead astronomer on Earth 2.0 told Nature. The spacecraft will implement the transit method, that is, it will detect small changes in the star’s brightness that indicate that a planet has passed in front of it.
Together, the six telescopes of the mission will study a staggering 1.2 million stars across a 500-square-degree patch of sky, while also observing dimmer and more distant stars than does NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). The seventh instrument on board will be a gravitational microlensing telescope for surveying rogue planets that are far from their star, similar to Neptune or Pluto.
EARTH 2.0 HIDING IN THE STARS?
Nasa has so far detected over 5000 worlds in the Milky Way galaxy in what is so far the biggest catalogue of exoplanets outside our Solar System that are waiting to be explored. The 5000 exoplanets discovered so far have varied ranges when it comes to their composition and characteristics. These include small, rocky worlds like Earth, gas giants many times larger than Jupiter, and hot Jupiters in scorching close orbits around their stars.
Among this massive catalogue are “super-Earths,” which are possible rocky worlds bigger than our own, and “mini-Neptunes,” smaller versions of our system’s Neptune. The Chinese team hopes to find at least a dozen Earth 2.0 planets within the first few years of its operations.
“There will be a lot of data, so we need all the hands we can get. Earth 2.0 is an opportunity for better international collaboration,” Jian Ge told Nature.
Several countries are planning to build exoplanet-hunting missions, including Europe and the US. The James Webb Space Telescope launched last year is set to be the most advanced observatory when it begins operations in a few months, looking deep into the universe, farther and with more clarity than the Hubble telescope.