Searching for extrasolar planets
Main Theme Search for extrasolar planets
Mission Responsibility ESA
Launch Date 2017
End of Mission 2022
Current phase A
The PLATO mission (PLanetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) is one of the M-class missions selected in October 2007 for feasibility studies within the framework of ESA's "Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 programme ". Its main objective is the study of extrasolar planet systems through the identification and analysis of transits compared with a large group of stars and the complete description of the planets and their host stars. The satellite will operate in the L2. The payload in its present design foresees 28 identical telescopes assembled on a single platform, all of them aimed at the same field 25 degrees in diameter. The assessment study is underway. At the end of 2009 it will compete in the next selection phase of the Cosmic Vision programme.
The main objective of this mission is to identify Earth-like extrasolar planets through the transit method and to measure star oscillations around which they orbit to determine--with an accuracy never before achieved--their mass, radius and age, fundamental parameters for the accurate measurement of these quantities in the identified planets.
This objective can be achieved through constantly observing two fields for a total of about 500 square degrees covered in the celestial sphere.
Three groups of stars will be monitored:
- > 100.000 stars with a magnitude of 8<V<11 will be observed with a photometric noise of <2.7x10-5 in one hour;
- > 400.000 stars of principal sequence with a magnitude of 11<V<13-14 will be observed with a photometric noise of <8.0x10-5 in 1 hour;
- > 1.000 stars with a magnitude of 5<V<8
The first sample will have to be monitored continuously for at least 3 years. The second sample will have to be observed continuously for at least 2 years. The candidate transits will be re-observed at the end of the mission for a better definition of the parameters of the corresponding planets.
The Italian contribution involves the participation of Italian researchers both in the PLATO Payload Consortium that will deal with the design and building of the telescopes, instruments of the focal plane and the electronics and on-board computers, and the PLATO Science Consortium that will have the responsibility of evaluating the mission performance and will prepare the scientific programme, the choice of fields to be observed, the definition of the sources, the fine-tuning of the instruments for data analysis, complementary ground observations and the scientific use of PLATO's observations. In particular, concerning the payloads, the Italian community has the responsibility of proposing one or more opto-thermo-mechanical solutions for the telescopes and a solution for both the hardware and software for the Instrument Control Unit (ICU).
The PLATO mission falls within the framework of ESA's Science Programme to which Italy contributes about 13%.