European satellite seeks new planets
In a quest to discover planets outside our solar system, a
European consortium of space organisations recently launched
the COROT satellite. A Soyuz rocket lifted the satellite from
Kazakhstan in a successful launch ushering in a new year of discovery.
COROT, a French National Space Agency (CNES)-led initiative
with several contributing European partners, is on a mission
to detect new planets and peer deep into the heart of stars.
COROT will fulfil its scientific objectives by inspecting
approximately 120 000 stars through its 30-centimetre telescope.
COROT, which stands for ‘Convection Rotation and planetary
Transits’, has two different objectives, both of which
are accomplished through studying the amount of light radiated
from a star. In its search for exoplanets, as planets outside
our solar system are known, COROT is programmed to detect the
shadow produced by an exoplanet as it passes in front of the
star at the centre of its orbit, a phenomenon know as ‘Transit’.
may represent a new class of planets.
Though astronomers have detected curious behaviours leading
them to theorise as to the existence of exoplanets for more than
a century, their discovery did not occur until 1995. Since
then, over 200 have been detected, and hopes are high that COROT
will add many more to the list during its two-and-a-half-year
Furthermore, COROT has the potential to discover a whole new
classification of planets. Experts expect the majority of planets
discovered to be Jupiter-like gaseous environments. However,
it is possible that rocky planets with sizes comparable to Earth’s
will also be found, which would constitute a new class of heavenly
Throughout its mission, COROT will also study ‘starquakes’.
Starquakes are acoustic waves generated deep inside a star causing
ripples on the surface. The ripples disrupt the luminosity generated
by the star altering its brightness. COROT is equipped to measure
nuances in brightness caused by starquakes, supplying researchers
with information allowing them to precisely calculate the star’s
mass, age and chemical composition.
The COROT mission was first conceived by CNES in 1996, and a
call for European partners published in 1999. Construction began
in 2000, with CNES responsible for the overall system and coordinating
the launch contract with the Franco-Russian company Starsem.
Other partners in the project include ESA, Austria, Belgium,
Germany, Spain and Brazil.
The international partners are supplying services ranging from
hardware items to ground stations, as well as analysis of raw
data logged by COROT. Following an open competition for scientists
interested in participating, researchers have been brought onboard
as Co-Investigators from a number of European countries, including
Denmark, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Portugal.
Space research on Europa