back to article PLATO mission to find alien life is given the thumbs up

The European Space Agency’s PLATO mission hunting for habitable exoplanets has been given the green light to move from blueprint into construction. It was previously selected in 2014 as part of the ESA’s Cosmic Vision Programme, but the launch date has been pushed out two years from 2024 to 2026. The goal is to detect Earth- …

  1. John Mangan

    Go PLATO

    It still astonishes me that for a large part of my life nobody knew if there was a single planet outside the solar system with little short-term prospect of resolving that and now we know of 4000+ planets.

    What progress, what a universe!

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Indeed. I remember Carl Sagan's formula for determining if other planets could exist and bear life, and IIRC it started with saying "if 1% of all stars had planets".

      RIP dear Mr Sagan, but we're way beyond 1% already, so the chances are looking better than ever !

      1. RealBigAl

        Sounds like the Drake Equation

        Now read "40 billion Earth-sized planets" in Carl Sagan's voice.

    2. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: Go PLATO

      That's one thing, but considering astronomy wasn't exactly invented yesterday, it totally blew my mind when I found out that at the time the Wright brothers were already flying and Einstein was bending space and time, they didn't even know other galaxies existed...

      (That's a "me, centre of the universe" icon, right...? -->)

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Go PLATO

        If we wait a bit it seems that we again won't know other galxies existed because accelerating expansion will have thrown them all beyond the horizon of causality.

        It's about 150 billion years. I think this wouldn't even fit into a Perry Rhodan timeline.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Go PLATO

        I'm not saying your physicist is fat, but if "Einstein was bending space and time"...

    3. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: Go PLATO

      "It still astonishes me that for a large part of my life nobody knew if there was a single planet outside the solar system with little short-term prospect of resolving that and now we know of 4000+ planets."

      ^ This, totally.

      And I hope this comes to pass before I pop my clogs:

      "and could eventually lead to the detection of extra-terrestrial life.”

    4. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: Go PLATO

      "Of course, it is possible that alien beings travel billions of miles to amuse themselves by planting crop circles in Wiltshire or frightening the daylights out of some poor guy in a pickup truck on a lonely road in Arizona (they must have teenagers, after all), but it does seem unlikely."

      Bill Bryson

      A Short History of Nearly Everything

      1. Robert Moore


        Teasers are usually rich kids with nothing to do. They cruise around looking for planets that haven't made interstellar contact yet and buzz them, meaning that they find some isolated spot with very few people around, then land right by some poor unsuspecting soul whom no one's going to believe and then strut up and down in front of him wearing silly antennas on their head and making beep beep noises.

  2. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge

    But... Ming's warning...

    "Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would've hidden from it in terror."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But... Ming's warning...

      Ming won't be able to resist the awesome destructive power of USAnian Rap "Music". Point the radio telescopes, I have a CD!

    2. tony2heads

      Re: But... Ming's warning...

      I'll see your Ming and raise you a Reaper

  3. phuzz Silver badge

    So how big are these new telescopes going to be? How are they going to be launched?

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      I went looking on the ESA site and I've found my mistake. The plan is to launch a *single spacecraft*, with twenty six individual telescopes on it (all pointing in slightly different directions). The plan is to launch on a Soyuz-Fregat2-1b from Kourou.

      Somehow I'd got it into my head that this would be multiple craft, each with a single telescope on.

  4. RealBigAl

    Still time for the obligatory

    "Maybe we should search for intelligent life on this planet first"

  5. Christoph Silver badge

    That looks like they are using both the transit method and the doppler method to look at each of these planets. I know that both methods are successful and have found each huge numbers of planets, but I wasn't aware that any individual planets had been found using both methods?

    I would have thought that would cut down the useable number of targets a lot - does anyone know roughly what proportion of the known exoplanets have already been found using both methods?

    Plus of course the difficulties of finding earth-size planets with the doppler method if the system also has Jupiter sise planets pulling the star a lot more.

    1. IT Poser

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Now that we have some actual baseline data...

    Perhaps we should refine the spec to look for actual Earth type worlds.

    IE mass = M(e) +1/-0.3 Orbital period 3-500 days in the 5-500 Light range for example.

    Just a thougth.

  7. Mark 85 Silver badge

    How long do they focus on a given star? I'm curious because if the planet is on the "backside" of the star away from us, I'd think it wouldn't be detected. Or do they go back and recheck every few months just in case?

    1. IT Poser

      Since transits only last a fraction of a day, all the stars must be monitored continuously, that is, their brightnesses must be measured at least once every few hours. The ability to continuously view the stars being monitored dictates that the field of view (FOV) must never be blocked at any time during the year. Therefore, to avoid the Sun the FOV must be out of the ecliptic plane. The secondary requirement is that the FOV have the largest possible number of stars. This leads to the selection of a region in the Cygnus and Lyra constellations of our Galaxy as shown.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thumbs up

    tentacles up!

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