European Space Agency Will Start Planet Hunting In 2024
Exoplanets, Earth-like planets, and Goldilocks Zone, these are some of science's buzzwords at the moment thanks in no small part to NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. When Kepler was launched in 2009, researchers had muted expectations for the revolutionary planet hunting mission. Now, just a few years on and our expectations for finding a habitable planet similar to Earth have increased to the point that scientists are talking about 'When' not 'If'. It is no surprise then that another major space agency has just committed a significant level of resources to the planet hunting cause. The European Space Agency has just announced that its Science Programme Committee had selected the PLATO mission as part of the agency's 'Cosmic Vision' for 2015-2025.
Over the course of its initial 6 year mission the PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of Stars) space telescope will study around 1 million nearby stars covering over half of the visible night sky. At its disposal will be an array of 34 small telescopes and cameras that will help it measure the dips in a star's light that indicate planetary orbits. Most interestingly though is the fact that, with cross-referencing of ground-based data, PLATO will be able to measure a planet's density, composition and age.
"PLATO, with its unique ability to hunt for Sun-Earth analogue systems, will build on the expertise accumulated with a number of European missions, including CoRot and Cheops," said ESA's Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, Alvaro Giminez.
"Its discoveries will help to place our own Solar System's architecture in the context of other planetary systems."
PLATO will be launched from the ESA spaceport in Kourou in 2024 before taking up a position some 1.5million kilometers from Earth. So it would seem that we should get used to hearing about the discovery of Earth-like planets as more and more attention and resources are dedicated to mapping and identification of our galactic neighbourhood.
For more on the PLATO mission, you can read the ESA's official announcement at the link below: