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Headlines Published on 18 January 2007

Title 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.

Exoplanets may represent a new class of planets. © Matt+
Exoplanets may represent a new class of planets.
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’.

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 mission.

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 bodies.

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.

More information:

  • COROT homepage
  • Space research on Europa

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