COROT, due for launch in late 2006, will be the first spacecraft devoted to the search for rocky planets, similar to our own Earth. It will look for the tiny drop in light caused by a planet as it slips across the face of its parent star.
COROT – Convection, Rotation, and planetary Transits -- is a space telescope designed to search for extrasolar planets and to study stars.
The extrasolar planets will reveal themselves by transiting their star -- when a planet crosses in front of its star, it blocks some of the starlight that reaches us. Because the planet will have to cross in front of its star from our viewpoint, COROT will not be able to detect planets that orbit their stars at inclination angles not observable from Earth.
So far, most of the over 200 extrasolar planets found to date are massive gas giants like Jupiter. Astronomers hope planetary transit hunts like the COROT mission will find rocky worlds about the size of Earth. COROT will be able to spot short-period transits of 50 days or less, so only planets orbiting close to their stars will be discovered by this mission.
COROT will observe about 120,000 stars. Astronomers expect to find between 10 to 40 rocky worlds, as well as many gas giants, in each star field that COROT will observe. Every 150 days COROT will move to conduct new observations in a different star field.
COROT captured its first image while viewing the constellation of the Unicorn near Orion.
COROT also will help astronomers learn more about the physics of stars by studying “starquakes” -- acoustical waves generated from a star’s interior that ripple across the surface and alter the star’s brightness. The nature of the ripples will allow astronomers to calculate the star's precise mass, age and chemical composition.
The COROT mission is led by the French national space agency, CNES. ESA provided the optics for the telescope, tested the payload, and is providing support throughout the mission.
The COROT satellite was launched December 27, 2006, and “first light,” when the protective cover of the telescope was opened, occurred on January 17, 2007. The telescope began its first observing run on Feb 8. The mission is planned to last for two and a half years.
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