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It has been said that the existence of alien life elsewhere in our universe would be extraordinary – as would the alternative possibility, that we are quite alone. Now science minister David Willetts has announced the UK government is to spend £25m on a space probe which will attempt to discover the truth about extra-terrestrial life.

The "Plato Mission" – named after the ancient Greek philosopher – will attempt to discover tiny fluctuations in the light emanating from one million stars. These fluctuations may indicate the presence of exoplanets – planets orbiting suns other than our own. Exoplanets which orbit within the so-called "Goldilocks zone" – where the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold to allow water in its liquid state – can then be examined more closely for signs of life.

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