Say cheese: Swiss space telescope CHEOPS takes first pictures

CHEOPS, a joint mission of the European Space Agency and Switzerland launched on 18 December 2019, has successfully taken its first images of the sky.

CHEOPS in the clean room at Airbus in Madrid
CHEOPS in the clean room at Airbus in Madrid. © ESA – S. Corvaja

The first images from the space telescope were crucial as they confirmed that the optics had survived the rocket launch in good shape. But there’s one more piece of good news: based on a preliminary analysis, their quality is even better than expected. “The images received are smoother and more symmetrical than what we expected from measurements performed in the laboratory,” said Willy Benz, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Bern and Principal Investigator of the CHEOPS mission.

CHEOPS (short for CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite) consists of a space telescope developed and assembled by the University of Bern (UNIBE), in collaboration with the University of Geneva (UNIGE),  and a satellite platform that carries the telescope and allows the control of the satellite from the ground. The objective of the mission is to study exoplanets by observing the stars around which the planets orbit. High precision is necessary for CHEOPS to measure small changes in the brightness of stars outside our solar system caused by the transit of an exoplanet in front of the star.

Ever since the first moon landing, Bernese space exploration has been among the world’s elite. The numbers are impressive: 25 times were instruments flown into the upper atmosphere and ionosphere using rockets (1967-1993), nine times into the stratosphere with balloon flights (1991-2008), over 30 instruments were flown on space probes, and with CHEOPS the University of Bern shares responsibility with ESA for a whole mission.

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