The EChO science case
Tinetti et al
The discovery of almost 2000 exoplanets has revealed an unexpectedly diverse planet population. Observations to date have shown that our Solar System is certainly not representative of the general population of planets in our Milky Way. The key science questions that urgently need addressing are therefore: What are exoplanets made of? Why are planets as they are? What causes the exceptional diversity observed as compared to the Solar System?
EChO (Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory) has been designed as a dedicated survey mission for transit and eclipse spectroscopy capable of observing a large and diverse planet sample within its four-year mission lifetime. EChO can target the atmospheres of super-Earths, Neptune-like, and Jupiter-like planets, in the very hot to temperate zones (planet temperatures of 300K-3000K) of F to M-type host stars. Over the next ten years, several new ground- and space-based transit surveys will come on-line (e.g. NGTS, CHEOPS, TESS, PLATO), which will specifically focus on finding bright, nearby systems. The current rapid rate of discovery would allow the target list to be further optimised in the years prior to EChO's launch and enable the atmospheric characterisation of hundreds of planets. Placing the satellite at L2 provides a cold and stable thermal environment, as well as a large field of regard to allow efficient time-critical observation of targets randomly distributed over the sky. A 1m class telescope is sufficiently large to achieve the necessary spectro-photometric precision. The spectral coverage (0.5-11 micron, goal 16 micron) and SNR to be achieved by EChO, thanks to its high stability and dedicated design, would enable a very accurate measurement of the atmospheric composition and structure of hundreds of exoplanets.