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European Space Agency will launch telescope able to discover twin Earths

The observatory consists of 26 telescopes working together on a single platform, making it possible to cover a large area of the sky.

A powerful planet-finding space telescope capable of discovering twin Earths is to be launched by the European Space Agency in 2026.

Plato (PLAnitary Transits and Oscillations of stars) will search several hundreds of thousands of stars looking for rocky planets orbiting sun-like stars, including those that could be habitable.

The observatory consists of 26 telescopes working together on a single platform, making it possible to cover a very large area of the sky.

Esa has announced its official adoption of the mission, marking a major milestone in the development of the project which was first proposed in 2007.

Plato will use the “transit” discovery method which measures the tiny loss of light that occurs when a planet passes in front of its parent star. It will stare at patches of sky for up to two years in order to capture more than one planetary transit.

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Astronomers will focus their attention on Earth-like planets in the habitable zone – the orbital region where temperatures are mild enough to allow liquid surface water – of nearby sun-like stars.

Professor Laurent Gizon, director of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, said: “Plato will for the first time fully characterise these stars and their planets with regard to mass, radius, and age. This will revolutionise the study of the evolution of exoplanets and their host stars.”

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