A committee of the European Space Agency (ESA) has given the green light on its PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) mission, enabling the initiative to transition from blueprint to construction. The project was first introduced three years, with an estimated cost of about 600 million euros. PLATO serves as the agency’s third medium-class celestial operation under its Cosmic Vision program.
PLATO’s primary goal is to gain more knowledge about a large number of exo-planetary systems that are located within the habitable zone and may potentially accommodate life. The project also aims to determine the properties of terrestrial planets that orbit in the habitable zone around sun-like stars. This will help astronomers gain better understanding of how the universe works. Aside from this, the initiative was designed to examine the seismic movements of stars. This in turn will allow scientists to make precise classifications and determine the age of planets surrounding a host star.
“PLATO will for the first time fully characterise these stars and their planets with regard to mass, radius, and age. This will revolutionise the study of the evolution of exoplanets and their host stars,” said Professor Laurent Gizon, director of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany.
“The launch of PLATO will no doubt facilitate us with a golden opportunity to have a say in some of the most remarkable discoveries of the next decade. It will help us answer the primary questions about the existence of the world, its formation, and twin-stars, and will eventually lead us to the finding of extraterrestrial life,” said Don Pollacco, a mission associate and professor of Physics at Warwick University.
PLATO will be launched 1.5 million kilometers into space and is slated to examine and monitor thousands of stars. The observatory of the PLATO initiative will make use of 26 telescopes that will work simultaneously. The telescopes will be housed on a single platform and will be used to cover a large portion of the sky. The telescopes will work by searching for slight dips in light when a planet passes between the star it orbits and the powerful telescopes monitoring it. As planets do not emit their own light, they would appear to be dark specs crossing their bright stars, the experts explained. The project will look for planets in the “Goldilocks zone”, an area that is neither too near nor too far from the stars that they orbit. This indicates that the planets’ conditions would be not too hot or too cold, and may potentially hold water to support life.
According to the ESA, the PLATO project is slated for launch in 2026.
Other projects that were instrumental in exoplanet search
PLATO was only the most recent space initiative slated to search for exoplanets. The project is set to follow the National Aeronautics and Space Administration‘s (NASA) Kepler observatory, which has found more than 3,400 confirmed exoplanets so far. Thirty of these exoplanets were less than twice the size of Earth and were located within the habitable zone.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and several dozen ground-based observatories have also made significant contributions in exoplanet search. Discover more news about space exploration at Space.news.