One of NASA’s proposed missions, known as the Fast INfrared Exoplanet Spectroscopy Survey Explorer (FINESSE), could greatly improve our understanding of extrasolar worlds. If selected for development, the spacecraft will investigate at least 500 exoplanet atmospheres, providing detailed information about climate processes on distant alien planets.
“FINESSE will spectroscopically observe the atmospheres of many hundreds of transiting exoplanets to measure their molecular abundances and thermal profiles,” Robert Zellem, FINESSE science team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), told Astrowatch.net. “FINESSE has the capability in its two-year mission to observe the atmospheres of over 1000 transiting exoplanet.”
In order to conduct the planned studies, FINESSE will use the transit method. It will measure how a planet’s atmosphere absorbs light from its host star as a function of wavelength. This will allow it to infer the molecules in the planet’s atmosphere.
“By doing this for hundreds of planets, FINESSE will determine how planets form and the crucial factors that establish planetary climate,” Zellem said.
These observations will require a proper imaging system. That is why the FINESSE spacecraft will be equipped with a telescope with a 75-centimeter (29.5-inch) primary mirror and a spectrometer that will observe planets in the visible and infrared wavelengths (from 0.5 to 5 microns).
According to Zellem, wide spectral coverage will enable FINESSE to measure the abundances of molecules such as water, methane, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide as well as look for the presence of clouds and hazes.
Data collected by the spacecraft are expected to provide important information that could improve our knowledge about various exoplanets, from rocky terrestrial planets to gas giants like Jupiter. FINESSE could help us discover what these alien worlds are like, determining what makes them they way they are, and allowing this knowledge to be applied in the broader planetary context, including the search for life outside of the Solar System.
The Daily Galaxy via NASA/Finesse Mission