Space-bound scope to study planets


The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency plans to send a space telescope into orbit around the Earth to observe Venus, Mars and Jupiter to unlock the secrets of our own planet’s atmosphere, officials said Friday.

JAXA plans to launch a satellite later this year equipped with an ultraviolet telescope that will probe the gases surrounding three of our nearest neighbors in the solar system.

Scientists hope this will help them understand the conditions that created the dense, life-supporting atmosphere of Earth, JAXA said in a statement.

They also want to understand if solar winds have affected Jupiter’s magnetosphere, the area of space around the planet where the particles fall under the sway of its magnetic field.

The satellite, weighing 320 kg, will go around the Earth in an elliptical orbit between 950 and 1,150 km high, officials said.

Next year, scientists operating the so-far unnamed telescope will team up with their Hubble Space Telescope counterparts in observing Jupiter, with the data made available for scientists around the world, JAXA said.

JAXA said Venus, Earth and Mars may have had quite similar atmospheres when they first formed. “However, within 1 billion years after the birth of the solar system . . . growth and change resulted in the different and specific current states,” it said. “Currently, we can’t explain the atmospheric diversity of Mars, Earth and Venus. We hope the mission will explain why most of the atmosphere of Mars and Venus escaped into outer space and what kept Earth’s atmosphere dense enough to sustain life.”