Europe's COROT launch
On 27 December, COROT is to be launched into space on a unique astronomy mission: its twin goals are to detect exoplanets orbiting around other stars and to probe the mysteries of stellar interiors as never before.
COROT stands for ‘Convection Rotation and planetary Transits’. The name describes the mission’s scientific goals. ‘Convection and rotation’ refer to the satellite’s capability to probe stellar interiors, studying the acoustic waves that ripple across the surface of stars, a technique called asteroseismology. ‘Transit’ refers to the technique whereby the presence of a planet orbiting a star can be inferred from the dimming starlight caused when the planet passes in front of it. To achieve its twin scientific objectives, COROT will monitor some 120,000 stars with its 30-centimetre telescope.
COROT will lead a bold new search for planets around other stars. In the decade since the first discovery in 1995 of an exoplanet (51 Pegasi b), more than 200 other such planets outside our solar system have been detected using ground-based observatories. The COROT space telescope promises to find many more during its two-and-a-half-year mission, expanding the frontiers of our knowledge towards ever-smaller planets.
Many of the planets COROT will detect are expected to be 'hot Jupiters', gaseous worlds. An unknown percentage of those detected are expected to be rocky planets, maybe just a few times larger than the Earth (or smaller, even). If COROT finds such planets, they will constitute a new class of planet altogether.
While it is looking at a star, COROT will also be able to detect 'starquakes', acoustic waves generated deep inside a star that send ripples across its surface, altering its brightness. The exact nature of the ripples allows astronomers to calculate the star's precise mass, age and chemical composition.
For additional information about COROT, you can also visit:
COROT at ESA: www.esa.int/SPECIALS/COROT and
COROT at CNES: http://www.cnes.fr/corot_en/