SSAC recommended PLATO

The rumours of the last days now got out… A BBC article now states that PLATO is in the pole position for the M3 selection. It is a needed step in exoplanet science and after the odd M1/M2 selection process, it was well deserved. Of course I’m biased, but i have to say that the science case of PLATO is extremly compelling, and without PLATO the future in Exoplanet science would be much less exciting. With PLATO the search for the second habitable planet goes into the right direction.

More about PLATO can be found on my site and here and here.

Another blog entry about the recommendation can be found here.


end of an era?

The first two space missions for detectiing transiting exoplanets have come to an end. Kepler, a space telescope by NASA has some technical problems with one wheel and CoRoT the European space mission led by CNES is also dead.

It have been exiting times with many new and intriguing discoveries. But the discoveries of CoRoT and Kepler show also the way that needs to be taken with the next missions for transiting planets. Until the next missions will come, there is still much data analysis to be done for all the Kepler and CoRoT light curves. So the end of the era of CoRoT and Kepler hopefully will just be the start of the next exciting one.

If we look at already selected missions (TESS, CHEOPS) and proposed missions (PLATO2.0, ECHO) this is what we have:

TESS a mission selected by NASA for implementation and launch in 2017 will focus on bright targets as will PLATO the mission proposed to ESA for launch in 2022 / 2024. Both these mission will detect transiting planets around nearby stars. This will allow spectroscopic follow up of such planets with future instruments as the E-ELT. TESS will conduct an all-sky survey mainly detecting close in planets with small periods (for most stars 27 days coverage is the limit), PLATO will stare on selected fields for longer times, thus finding long period planets.

Next to these two detection missions two missions for characterizing transiting exoplanets are in the loop. CHEOPS is already been selected  by ESA. It is a S-class mission which will reobserve systems known to host a planet (detected by RV or by transit method). CHEOPS will do photometric observations of these objects to search for not yet detected transits or to get more precise parameters by better transit light curves. The second mission on characterization of transiting planets is ECHO, a proposed ESA mission (launch in 2022 / 2024) for spectroscopic follow up of transiting Jupiter-sized planets.

Next to all these space missions the ground based surveys will be ongoing and complement the search for new close in transiting planets. With new surveys like NGTS we will get down to Neptune sized planets with periods up to ten days.

So even with CoRoT and Kepler gone the story of transiting planets will go on, and hopefully reach new dimensions.


PLATO now official M3 candidate mission

PLATO, the satellite mission for the detection of transiting planets around bright stars, is now a candidate mission for the M3 selection. The selection will probably happen in early 2014. With PLATO it might be possible to detect another earth sized planet around a sun-like star in the habitable zone. That means we might be able to find a earth twin during my lifetime.


World Economic Forum going exoplanets

I guess you have heard about the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos.
Turns out they even discuss exoplanets and alien life.
In collaboration with the Nature Journal they identified 5 X-factors (pending future risks). One of them being the impact, which the possible detection of alien live in the next decade might have.

You can find the document here: Global Risks 2013 – X-Factors

In this report they basically state, that in the next decade we might find extraterrestrial life, and such a detection might overwhelm human mankind.

In my opinion the impact of the detection of extraterrestrial life in our solar system is highly overstated. For all living organisms inside our solar system a common origin is still the best theory. Therefore  this could still mean, that the solar system is the only system harboring life. the impact on our philosophy / religions and our selfunderstanding is limited.

The detection of extrasolar life is where the fun starts.

But I am convinced that at the moment no detected planet allows for such detection. Only rocky (small) planets around nearby (bright) stars within the habitable zone will have such potential. And at the moment no space mission is able to find such planets (The Kepler and CoRoT Planets are too faint, and ground based surveys find mostly large Jupiter sized planets.). To the best of my knowledge only two missions might be able to find these planets, this is TESS (NASA) and PLATO (ESA) and both are not yet selected, and even if selected at least PLATO will not launch before 2022.

PLATO submitted documents for M3

PLATO submitted last friday the documents needed for the ESA M3 selection process. Now we wait for the recommendations from ESA Advisory Structure and the Science Program Committee selection which will happen in February.

After the selection a payload definition phase will start. This definition phase will end in September 2013 and in beginning of 2014 we will know whether PLATO will be build.