Paris: Dark energy, habitable planets around other stars, and the mysterious nature of our own Sun, have been chosen by the European Space Agency (ESA) as candidates for two medium-class missions to be launched by the year 2017.
ESA’s Science Programme Committee (SPC) approved three missions to enter the so-called definition phase on February 18.
This is the next step required before the final decision is taken as to which missions are implemented.
The three proposals chosen to proceed are Euclid, PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO), and Solar Orbiter.
Euclid would address key questions relevant to fundamental physics and cosmology, namely the nature of the mysterious dark energy and dark matter.
Astronomers are now convinced that these substances dominate ordinary matter.
Euclid would map the distribution of galaxies to reveal the underlying ‘dark’ architecture of the Universe.
The PLATO mission would address one of the most timely and long-standing questions in science, namely the frequency of planets around other stars.
This would include terrestrial planets in a star’s habitable zone, so-called Earth-analogues.
In addition, PLATO would probe stellar interiors by detecting the gaseous waves rippling their surfaces.
Solar Orbiter would take the closest look at our Sun yet possible, approaching to just 62 solar radii.
It would deliver images and data that include views of the Sun’s polar regions and the solar far side when it is not visible from Earth.
These three missions are the finalists from 52 proposals that were either made or carried forward in 2007.
They were whittled down to just six mission proposals in 2008 and sent for industrial assessment.
Now that the reports from those studies are in, the missions have been pared down again.
Only two missions out of three of them: Euclid, PLATO and Solar Orbiter, can be selected for the M-class launch slots.