PLATO, a space-based observatory designed to search for planets orbiting stars, is the European Space Agency’s newest mission.
“Its discoveries will help to place our own Solar System’s architecture in the context of other planetary systems,”Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration said,
PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) is set to launch in 2024 by Soyuz rocket from the ESA’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The initial mission is six years in length, and it is possible the mission will be extended. This is the ESA’s third medium-class science mission.
PLATO will study the brightness of nearby stars, looking for regular dips in brightness. It is set to operate from L2, lagrangian point 2, a virtual point in space, 1.5 million km away from Earth.
A home away from home
Regular dips in brightness are a tell-tale sign of planets orbiting a star. When a planet passes between Earth and its distant star, part of the star’s light is temporarily blocked out, causing a dip in brightness.
PLATO will use 34 separate small cameras and telescopes to search up to a million stars for unknown planets.
The hope for the PLATO mission is to identify Earth-like planets and Super-Earths in the habitable zone.
The data gathered from PLATO will be coupled with ground-based radial velocity observations. This will allow scientists to determine the size, mass, and density of the planets. The data will also provide insights into the composition of these planets.