PLATO mission could detect tens of thousands of habitable planets

The European Space Agency will launch PLATO, an exoplanet-hunting mission that will investigate over 245,000 stars for the discovery of planets similar to Earth.
Loukia Papadopoulos
An artist's illustration of PLATO.jpg
An artist's illustration of PLATO.


In 2026, the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch the PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO), an exoplanet-hunting mission that will investigate over 245,000 stars to look for planets similar to Earth. The mission is expected to find tens of thousands of potentially habitable planets.

This is according to a report by Universe Today.

The news outlet spoke to Filip Matuszewski, a Ph.D. candidate with the Grenoble Planetary and Astrophysics Institute (IPAG) at the Université Grenoble Alpes, who led a study as part of his thesis, seeking to highlight how many exoplanets PLATO could detect. To achieve this task, Matuszewski and his team developed a tool named the Planet Yield for PLATO Estimator (PYPE). 

“First, we needed a synthetic population of planets (our own little universe, if you will). To do this, we took a planetary population model, which is basically a simulation of 1000 protoplanetary discs evolving into planetary systems (Christoph Mordasini of the University of Bern, Switzerland, provided us with these planetary systems). Since the resulting systems are quite different from what we currently know about exoplanets, we wanted to include data from Kepler. Based on the occurrence rates from Kepler, we formed our own two-planet populations to use as a comparison,” Matuszewsk told Universe Today via email.

Estimating the number of planets

The researcher’s team then made use of a detection efficiency model that took into account the performance of PLATOs cameras and various noise sources in order to estimate the number of planets that can be spotted.

“That is the basic function of PYPE,” said Matuszewski. “From there, we can tweak the program to give us results for various false scenarios and time periods. How many planets do we find looking here for two years and there for two years? What if we look at a particular field for longer?”

The scientists found that PLATO is likely to detect thousands or tens of thousands of exoplanets and that a statistically significant number of these planets are likely to be similar to Earth. 

“Using the most conservative planet population model and mission scenario, we estimate a minimum of 500 Earth-sized planets to be detected in the nominal mission duration of 4 years. That includes every type of star and every distance to the star. If we look at Earth-sized planets with an orbital period range of 250-500 days around G stars (Earth-Sun analogs), we estimate up to 12 detections. This is for the 2+2 year observation with the most optimistic planet model,” Matuszewski explained.

Ultimately, this study aims to tackle the long-standing questions and the important margin of uncertainty relating to how common certain types of planets are. This will offer scientists a better idea of how common exoplanets are, particularly ones that are habitable and perhaps even inhabited.