Defining the Cosmic Vision

The process of defining the new long-term plan for space science missions to be conducted more than ten years from now began in April 2004 with a call for science themes of the future.

The scientific community responded massively with more 150 ideas which were reviewed by ESA science advisory groups. The resulting scientific priorities were presented and debated at a workshop in Paris in mid-September 2004. These consultations resulted in a new plan, to be endorsed in May 2005 by ESA’s Science Programme Committee.

Dubbed the ‘Cosmic Vision 2020’, this plan identifies today’s major scientific questions to be addressed by ESA's future space science missions:

What are the conditions for life and planetary formation?

This theme looks at the emergence of life not only in our Solar System but also in 'exoplanets' orbiting other stars. This requires the study of how and where stars form, how planets emerge from this process, and the appearance of signs of life (bio-markers) in other stellar systems as well as our own.

How does the Solar System work?

This will be a global attempt to understand the Solar System as a whole, from the Sun to the limits of its sphere of influence, as well as the formation mechanisms of gaseous giants and their moons, and the role of small bodies and asteroids in the process of planetary formation.

What are the fundamental laws of the Universe?

A century after Einstein’s theory of relativity was proposed, physics remains a vast field for investigation. The laws of physics as currently formulated do not apply at extreme conditions, and are not at all understood for the first fractions of seconds after the Big Bang. Some implications, like the behaviour of matter at extremely high temperatures and energies or the existence of gravity waves, still have to be explored.

How did the Universe begin and what is it made of?

The origin and early evolution of the Universe is still largely unknown. Less than 5% of the mass of the Universe has been identified, the rest being composed of mysterious ‘dark matter’ (23%) and ‘dark energy’ - one of the most surprising recent discoveries.

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