From Temperate Exoplanets to the Milky Way
This artist's impression depicts a temperate exoplanet in our Milky Way.
'From Temperate Exoplanets to the Milky Way' is one of the science themes for the Large-class missions in ESA's Voyage 2050 plan. As well as our Solar System, the Milky Way contains hundreds of millions of stars and exoplanets, dark matter, and interstellar material. Our current understanding of the interplay of elements in this galactic ecosystem is limited and there are many areas for further investigation.
One such area is the characterisation of the atmosphere of temperate exoplanets, a crucial step in understanding the chemical and physical diversity of these worlds and whether they harbour truly habitable surface conditions.
Another area is the accurate observation and measurement of the dynamics of stars, of star forming regions and the youngest open clusters and associations, in deeply obscured regions of our galaxy. Space astrometry in infrared would allow us to measure the motions of stars where they are currently forming, disentangling the interaction between the dynamics of the Milky Way and its link to star formation.
Europe has established scientific leadership in both of these areas. Space astrometry is recognized as a domain of European expertise with ESA's Hipparcos and Gaia missions. ESA is also playing a leading role with its trio of exoplanet missions Cheops, Plato and Ariel, which will progressively expand our knowledge of the type and variety of exoplanets in our galaxy.