The Italian Almanac
Italy will play an important role in three scientific missions the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to carry out by 2017. The projects are part of a general program called 'Cosmic Vision' and focus on the mystery of the Sun, habitable planets outside the Solar System and the nature of dark energy and dark matter, which constitute 95% of the Universe.
The Solar Orbiter project will take the closest look ever of the Sun with images and data including views of the Sun's polar regions and the Sun's far side when it is not visible from Earth.
The Plato mission will seek to determine the frequency of planets around other stars, especially those in a star's habitable zone, the so-called Earth-analogues.
Euclid will focus on the nature of dark energy and dark matter, which astronomers are convinced dominate ordinary matter. The Euclid project will also try to map the distribution of galaxies to reveal the underlying 'dark' architecture of the Universe.
In the Solar Orbiter project Italy will be responsible for one of the scientific instruments under the direction of Ester Antonucci of the Turin Observatory and the National Astrophysics Institute (INAF).
Italy's involvement in the Plato mission involves the development and construction of some 30 onboard telescopes, while in the Euclid project Andrea Cimatti of the University of Bologna's astronomy department will be responsible for one of the key instruments.