COROT space mission ready to search out new planets and map the


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The COROT mission is scheduled for launch on the 27th December 2006, from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. COROT will detect planets orbiting around other stars and probe the secrets of stellar interiors as never before. COROT may discover the first planets elsewhere that closely resemble the Earth in size and composition. The mission is led by the French National Space Agency (CNES) to which the European Space Agency (ESA) and several partner nations are providing a particularly strong international "flavour".

While CNES is completing the preparation for the COROT launch, ESA and a large number of European scientists involved in the mission are eagerly waiting for this event to take place and for the first scientific results to arrive.

Professor Ian Roxburgh, of Queen Mary University London and the ESA member of the Scientific Committee, has been involved with COROT from its inception. He says "COROT is the first dedicated space mission to pursue both asteroseismology and planet-hunting, but the measurements required for both are essentially the same - high precision results on how the radiation from a star changes over time. A planet passing in front of a star can be detected by the fall in light from that star. Small oscillations of the star also produce changes in the light emitted which reveal what the star is made of and how they are structured internally. This data will provide a major boost to our understanding of how stars form and evolve."

COROT (pronounced "Coreau") stands for "Convection Rotation and planetary Transits". The name describes the scientific goals of the mission. "Convection and rotation" refer to the capability of COROT to probe into stellar interiors studying the acoustic waves that ripple across the surface of stars (a technique called 'asteroseismology'). "Transit" refers to the technique by which 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 accomplish its two scientific objectives, COROT will monitor about 120,000 stars with its 30-centimetre telescope.

COROT will lead a bold new search for planets around other stars. Since the discovery in 1995 of the first exoplanet, more than 200 other planets have been detected from ground-based observatories. COROT promises to find many more during its two-and-a-half-year mission, and to expand the frontiers of our knowledge towards ever smaller planets.

Many of the planets COROT will detect are expected to be 'hot-Jupiters'. An unknown percentage of the planets detected by COROT are expected to be rocky worlds, maybe just a few times larger than the Earth (or even smaller). If COROT finds these worlds, they will represent a new class of planet.

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 a star's surface, also altering its brightness. The exact nature of the ripples allows astronomers to calculate the star's precise mass, age and chemical composition and map the interior structure.

CNES is leading the mission and is partnered by ESA, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Brazil and Spain. CNES is responsible for the entire system and for the launch contract with the French-Russian company Starsem, who are providing a Soyuz launcher. The UK science funding agency, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) funds Professor Roxburgh to participate in COROT.

The contribution of the other international partners range from the provision of hardware units, to ground stations, complementary ground-based observations of the targets to be studied by COROT, and the analysis of the COROT scientific data to come.

ESA is playing a crucial role in the mission. It provided the optics for the telescope, sitting at the heart of the spacecraft, and testing of the payload. Through this collaboration, a number of European scientists have been selected as Co-Investigators in open competition. They come from Denmark, Switzerland, the UK and Portugal. As a result of ESA's participation in COROT, scientists from ESA's Member States will also be given access to the satellite's data.

ESA's SOHO spacecraft has been making asteroseismology observations on the Sun, so comparing COROT's data with SOHO will let scientists see how our parent star the Sun compares to other stars.

ESA plans to continue its search for Earth-like worlds in the second decade of the century with the launch of the Darwin mission. This flotilla of 4 or 5 spacecraft will take pictures of Earth-like worlds, allowing scientists to search for signs of life.

Notes for Editors

Images

Artist's impressions of the COROT spacecraft are available from http://www.pparc.ac.uk/Nw/corot.asp or by contacting the PPARC Press Office (details below) Copyright: CNES/ill.David DUCROS, 2006

Broadcast footage

BetaSP tapes are available with interview and animation clips. Transcript at http://television.esa.int/photos/EbS50182.pdf

Tapes can be obtained from PPARC press office (for UK) or ESA Media Relations (for elsewhere in the world).

The launch will be broadcast live on ESA TV, details will be available at http://television.esa.int

Further Information

For additional information about COROT also visit: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/COROT and http://smsc.cnes.fr/COROT/

Contacts

Professor Ian Roxburgh
Queen Mary University London
Tel +44 20 7882 5441
Mob + 447802 41 95 67
i.w.roxburgh@qmul.ac.uk

ESA Media Relations Office
Tel: +33 (0) 1 53 69 7155
Fax: +33 (0) 1 53 69 7690

Professor David Southwood, ESA Director of Science will be in London at the time of launch. Interview requests should be made to the ESA Media Relations Office.

Malcolm Fridlund, ESA COROT Project Scientist Email: Malcolm.fridlund@esa.int Queen Mary, University of London

Queen Mary is one of the leading colleges in the federal University of London, with over 11,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students, and an academic and support staff of around 2,600. Queen Mary is a research university, with over 80 per cent of research staff working in departments where research is of international or national excellence (RAE 2001). It has a strong international reputation, with around 20 per cent of students coming from over 100 countries.

The College has 21 academic departments and institutes organised into three sectors: Science and Engineering; Humanities, Social Sciences and Laws; and the School of Medicine and Dentistry. It has an annual turnover of 200 million pounds, research income worth 43 million pounds, and it generates employment and output worth nearly 400 million pounds to the UK economy each year.

Queen Mary's roots lie in four historic colleges: Queen Mary College, Westfield College, St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College and the London Hospital Medical College.

Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four broad areas of science - particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science. PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Particle Physics Laboratory, CERN, the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory for Research in the Southern hemisphere (ESO). It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility.

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