Keele scientist to play crucial role in new space mission

A Keele University astrophysicist is joining colleagues from around the world to lend his expertise to a new mission run by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Dr Pierre Maxted, from Keele’s School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, is part of the research team on the ESA’s Characterising Exoplanet Satellite (CHEOPS) mission, which launched a probe into space this morning (Wednesday 18 December).

The science team is being led by Professor Didier Queloz of the University of Cambridge, who recently won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery of exoplanets.

This is the first mission dedicated to searching for exoplanetary transits by performing ultra-high precision photometry on bright stars which are already known to host planets.

The mission's main science goals are to measure the bulk density of super-Earths and Neptunes orbiting bright stars and provide suitable targets for future in-depth characterisation studies of exoplanets in these mass and size ranges.

The probe was launched this morning from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, and Dr Maxted will be helping to analyse the data sent back to Earth, the first of which is expected to arrive in early 2020.

Dr Maxted said: "The Keele Astrophysics Group has a great deal of experience in finding planets using data from our SuperWASP instrument in South Africa. I'm excited to see what we will discover when we apply our state-of-the-art analysis methods to the ultra-precise data we will get from the CHEOPS mission."