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The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory

Staff: Enzo Pascale, Peter A. Ade, Matt Griffin, Peter Hargrave.

With more than 1,000 confirmed exoplanets (see, all we know of these alien worlds are are a few parameters such as their orbits, densities and radii. Do atmospheres exist? What are they made of? What kinds of climates do they have? Can biosignatures be detected? What does all this tell us about planetary formation and evolution, and the uniqueness or otherwise of the solar system? To answer these crucial questions we must use spectroscopic techniques to probe the presence of an atmosphere, and, where one is present, to determine its physical nature, chemical constituents and dynamics.

The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory (EChO) is a candidate ESA medium class mission (M3) and it will be the first dedicated space mission to investigate exoplanetary atmospheres, addressing the suitability of those planets for life and placing our Solar System in context.

EChO publicity image

EChO publicity slide showing one possible configuration of the spacecraft.

EChO will provide high resolution, multi-wavelength spectroscopic observations. It will measure the atmospheric composition, temperature and albedo of a representative sample of known exoplanets, constrain models of their internal structure and improve our understanding of how planets form and evolve. It will orbit around the L2 Lagrange point, 1.5 million km from Earth in the anti-sunward direction.

EChO will provide a paradigm change in the knowledge we have of the Galaxy, its relation with our solar system and humankind.

We are members of an international consortium which has proposed and studied EChO as the third Medium-class mission in ESA's Cosmic Vision programme. The final selection of the M3 mission will be made in February 2014, with five missions in contention, including EChO.

Our participation in EChO is supported by the UK Space Agency.

Learn more about EChO: visit the Consortium web page and the ESA web page.

Visit the School's PhD programme page if you are interested in joining the team.