The European Space Agency has plans to embark on a journey to explore the stars in a search for new planets. The mission is titled PLATO, short for the Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars, and is slated to launch some time in 2024. The mission will focus on searching for planets that can support life and the planetary conditions essential for life.
Space has always been a source of curiosity for many. Even though it contains millions and billions of stars and galaxies it is still called empty. Everyone must have, at one time or the other, heard the term the vast emptiness of space. But what makes it empty? It could be that besides human beings, no other form of life has been discovered which would call this universe their home. There have been reported sightings and people claiming to have made contact with aliens but that is about it. No concrete evidence has ever surfaced.
But the fact that no strong evidence exists has never stopped anyone from trying. Countless attempts have been made to answer the question if there is life on other planets. The very question has become the sole purpose of companies such as NASA, CNSA, the European Space Agency and many more to exist. Over the years, many exoplanets have been discovered, but there are hardly a few with the atmosphere that could sustain life. What is even rare is to find a planet whose atmosphere resembles that of Earth.
The PLATO mission by the European Space Agency will have approximately 34 cameras and telescopes and will look at distant planets from among a million stars. The agency would also observe and record the size, radius, age and density of these planets to better study its composition and figure out if it has the potential to sustain life.The European Space Agency’s planned journey to observe the stars could potentially provide multiple breakthrough with regards to understanding the relation between life and the planet that sustains it.
One more aspect the European Space Agency will be looking to study will be whether a planet lies in the Goldilocks zone. Distance from the nearest star, in the case of Earth’s distance from the sun, is also an important factor that needs to be considered before classifying a planet. The planet has to be at a preferable distance from it and cannot be too far or too near. These are the same reasons that make Mercury and Pluto are considered uninhabitable. When a planet is at the right distance from the Sun/star so that water, the primary source of sustenance for life, can exist it is said to be in the Goldilocks zone.
Apart from PLATO, the European Space Agency has other missions planned as well. These missions include the Solar Orbiter and Euclid planned to be launched in 2017 and 2020 respectively. The Solar Orbiter will focus on observing the Sun’s solar winds whereas Euclid will be focusing on dark energy and dark matter.
This could be a huge milestone for the agency as the mission would help observe and classify hundreds of new, possibly habitable, planets. There is still, however, a decade’s worth of waiting before the European Space Agency embarks on its journey to the stars, leaving ample room for further development.
Editorial by Hammad Ali