China has announced a massive project involving seven space telescopes to search for Earth's Twin -- Earth 2.0 -- while also attempting to answer one of the biggest scientific and philosophic questions in history: Are we alone in the universe?
A new 115-page paper reveals in great detail China’s plan to locate “Earth 2.0” and answer one of the greatest questions of the modern era: Are we alone in the universe?
China intends to find a planet similar to Earth orbiting a star similar to the Sun. In order to do so, the project dubbed “Earth 2.0 (ET)” will make use of an upcoming space observatory that will be launched in late 2026.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) will lead the mission to construct an observatory that will be tasked with discovering the number of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way, as well as their orbital range around their stars.
“Earth 2.0” (ET) will be the first to look for worlds similar to Earth and their orbital range around their host stars.
While the project had been known previously, the mission team has now posted a 115-page paper describing the project in detail on the arXiv preprint server, reports Vice.
The ET mission will search for “elusive Earth twins orbiting Sun-type stars” and “detect thousands of terrestrial exoplanets over a wide range of orbital periods and in interstellar space,” according to the paper.
Finding Earth’s Twin
The main focus on Earth 2.0 is part of an international search for potentially habitable planets. By identifying other worlds, different telescopes can start looking for the signatures of life, which could shed light on one of the most persistent questions of human history: are we alone?
The mission team, led by Jian Ge, a professor at the CAS Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, wrote that Earth-like planets around sun-like stars are potentially the best places to look for extraterrestrial life because the conditions are similar to what we have here on our planet.
“Therefore, it is necessary first to identify Earth 2.0 before extraterrestrial life can be detected. Unfortunately, most current space missions for exoplanets do not cover this key area,” the research paper explains.
The project will not only explore the possibility of finding a world similar to Earth but also shed light on a variety of other types of exoplanets, such as those that are free-floating -also called rogue planets -, those that have been ejected from their star systems, and those that form in interstellar space.
Seven telescopes will observe the skies for at least four years from the observatory’s planned vantage point, the second Lagrange point (L2), at which the James Webb Space Telescope is located.
“The ET mission will explore the diversity of Earth-sized planet populations with different orbital periods including close-in sub-Earths, terrestrial-like planets in habitable zones, cold planets, and free-floating planets, and will accurately determine the occurrence rates of these small/low-mass planets,” researchers explained.
Mission scientists explained that they intend to answer questions such as: How common are planets orbiting sun-like stars that are habitable?
What drives the creation and evolution of Earth-like planets? How do low-mass, free-floating planets get their mass, and where do they come from?
Nearly 30,000 exoplanets
“ET survey simulations show that the ET transit survey will be able to detect about ∼29,000 new planets, including ∼4,900 Earth-sized planets and 10-20 Earth 2.0s assuming an Earth 2.0 occurrence rate of 10 percent,” the team revealed.
Over 400 scientists and engineers from over 40 institutions in China and abroad will participate in the mission.
The telescope will observe asteroids in our solar system and comets in our galaxy as a secondary goal. It will also study the evolution of the Milky Way over billions of years.
It builds on ET’s predecessors’ success in finding exoplanets, notably NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, which discovered thousands of exoplanets before retiring in 2018.
Six of the seven telescopes aboard ET will work in the same area of space that Kepler examined, spanning the constellations Cygnus-Lyra. As this Kepler field is well studied and very likely is where Earth 2.0 lies, the new observatory should be able to detect Earth 2.0 with the transit method, which measures this dip in brightness when a planet passes in front of another planet.
By using microlensing, the seventh telescope will look for signs of free-floating planets at the center of the Milky Way.
A rare glimpse of rogue planets that are normally hidden from view is possible when the gravitational fields of these dark worlds warp light from sources behind them.
“ET will also conduct a four-year high precision photometric monitoring of over 30 million stars (I ≤ 20.6 mag) in the direction of the Galactic bulge to detect planetary microlensing events,” the paper reads.
Researchers concluded that the new transit and microlensing telescopes would revolutionize our understanding of terrestrial planets over vast areas of free space and orbital distances.
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