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Europe Approves Two Missions: Search For Habitable Planets And Detect Gravitational Waves

First Posted: Jun 21, 2017 07:49 AM EDT
LISA Pathfinder
The European Space Agency has given the green light to the PLATO and LISA missions.
(Photo : European Space Agency, ESA/YouTube screenshot)

The European Space Agency (ESA) has recently given the approval for two missions, the Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) mission and Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission. The probes will each look for Earth-like planets and detect gravitational waves.

According to Science, the PLATO mission has been approved for construction and scheduled for a tentative launch in 2026. It will search the skies for alternative Earths that can support life.

PLATO will be a mid-sized mission, with a budget under €500 million (US$557,425,000). The spacecraft will carry 26 telescopes on board. Each of these telescopes will be 12 centimeters in diameter and can continuously observe 50 percent of the sky.

PLATO will create a list of genuine Earth analogs, which will consist of exoplanets that have about 1.5 times the mass of the Earth and are located in the habitable zone of their Sun-like host stars. “The catalog will open up the possibility of studying the evolution of planetary systems,” PLATO member Isabella Pagano said.

Meanwhile, the LISA mission is scheduled to start detection of gravitational waves in space from 2034. Gravitational waves are ripples in the universe that are created when galaxies collide and supermassive black holes at their centers spiral together and merge, thereby producing explosions that shake the universe.

"We have no idea what we will discover, but perhaps we can get closer to the line that divides gravity from quantum physics," ESA's director of science Alvaro Giménez Cañete said, BBC reports. This may take us there." NASA is expected to contribute about 20 percent of the approximate €1 billion (US$1,114,850,000) cost of the LISA mission after the success of U.S. ground-based detector Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory (LIGO), which made the first detection of gravitational waves. 

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