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Eddington Mission Will Look For Earth-Like Planets

Eddington is a precision photometer, i.e. a device that will measure small changes in the brightness of a celestial object. For example, if Eddington were to observe a swarm of 10 000 fireflies, it would notice if just one of them `turned off'. All stars vary a little in brightness, because they vibrate like ringing bells. The speed of this oscillation is determined by factors such as the size, mass, composition and age of the star. Eddington will study the brightness variations, allowing astronomers to relate them to the internal condition of the star. This technique is known as asteroseismology.

Eddington will also detect planets passing across the face of their parent star. When a planet crosses a star, it is called a transit and blocks out a tiny fraction of light. Eddington will detect the drop in light, revealing the existence of the planet. Instead of an orbit around the Earth, Eddington will be placed far away, beyond the Moon. Its location, at a distance of 1.5 million kilometres from Earth, pointing directly away from the Sun, is usually known as L2.

London - Jun 03, 2002
The European Space Agency has confirmed the establishment of the Eddington Mission as part of its new Science programme. Astronomers, led by Professor Ian Roxburgh of Queen Mary, University of London, proposed the mission in 2000, and the Eddington Satellite is to be launched in 2007/8.

Named after the British astronomer, Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, who laid the foundations for our understanding of how stars work, the Eddington Mission aims to answer the question Eddington asked himself in 1926:

"What appliance can pierce through the outer layers of a star and test the conditions within," wrote Eddington in the Internal Constitution of the Stars, published 1926. Almost eighty years later, we will have the answer.

The Eddington satellite (consisting of four telescopes) will gaze at different regions of the sky for intervals of about two months each, observing over 200,000 stars, measuring changes in light of one part of one million, and thus allowing astronomers to work out what stars are like inside (asteroseismology).

Asteroseismology is the appliance Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington sought. This will enable astronomers to understand how stars work and to use this knowledge to measure the age of stars and components of our galaxy, and to understand how elements were formed.

The Mission will then search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars, pointing continuously at one region of the sky for three years, measuring light from over 100,000 stars and detecting the tiny decrease in light as a planet passes in front of the star. In addition the Eddington Mission will discover many larger planets and give astronomers the information to understand how the solar system was found.

Professor Ian Roxburgh, Science Co-ordinator of the Mission, said: "The approval of the Eddington Mission is great news. I am very, very happy! I first started working on such a mission in 1982, and this is the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of scientists.

At last we will be able to find planets like the Earth around other stars and to understand how stars work and how they change as they get older. Discovering the existence of planets like the Earth, with properties similar to those on Earth, is a first step towards searching for signs of life elsewhere in the Universe."

Over fifty research groups around Europe are involved in the Eddington Mission, including eight from the UK. Ian Roxburgh, Keith Horne (University of St Andrews) and Gerry Gilmore (University of Cambridge) are part of the Eddington Science Team that has been developing the Mission. It is under the overall direction of the European Space Agency Study Scientist Fabio Favata.

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Eddington Mission
Queen Mary, University of London
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Evidence For Young Planets Found In Dusty Orbit About Close Star
Tucson - Apr 18, 2002
Two independent teams of astronomers are presenting the discovery of new features in an edge-on disk around the nearby star Beta Pictoris at the Gillett Symposium on "Debris Disks and the Formation of Planets" in Tucson, Arizona.

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