Con­struc­tion of Europe’s ex­o­planet hunter be­gins

ESA’S Plato mis­sion is set to study plan­ets out­side of our So­lar Sys­tem

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At the 69th In­ter­na­tional Astro­nau­ti­cal Congress in Bre­men, Ger­many, the Euro­pean Space Agency (ESA) an­nounced that con­struc­tion of their new space ven­ture has be­gun. The Plan­e­tary Tran­sits and Os­cil­la­tions of stars (Plato) mis­sion will seek out undis­cov­ered rocky plan­ets or­bit­ing Sun-like stars. In par­tic­u­lar, Plato will be look­ing within the hab­it­able zones of stars, in which liq­uid wa­ter can ex­ist on a planet’s sur­face. At the congress, Ger­man tech­nol­ogy cor­po­ra­tion OHB Sys­tem AG were an­nounced as the prime con­trac­tors of the project. “Plato is a next-gen­er­a­tion ex­o­planet mis­sion that will mon­i­tor thou­sands of bright stars over a large area of the sky in search of tiny, reg­u­lar dips in their bright­ness caused by tran­sit­ing plan­ets,” said Ana Heras, Plato project sci­en­tist at ESA, in a press re­lease. Plato will be able to record these ‘dips’ in light and lo­cate the po­ten­tial ex­o­plan­ets pass­ing through the Sun’s light. This in­ter­stel­lar in­ves­ti­ga­tor will be mul­ti­pur­pose; it will also in­ves­ti­gate the host star of any ex­o­plan­ets found. The star’s mass, size and age will be mea­sured upon any dis­cov­er­ies, along with any seis­mic ac­tiv­ity in or­der for sci­en­tists to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of its evo­lu­tion. Plato is pre­dicted to be launched in 2026.

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