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  • Writer's pictureSven Piper

CoRoT Mission

Updated: 7 days ago

Artistic representation of the spacecraft
Artistic representation of the spacecraft (Credit: ESA)

CoRoT, standing for Convection Rotation and planetary Transits, was a significant advancement for the ESA in the search for extrasolar planets. It was the first mission aimed at finding rocky planets around nearby stars and was also the first European mission dedicated to asteroseismology of other stars.

The launch took place on December 27, 2006, using a Soyuz-Fregat launcher at Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Led by the French National Space Agency (CNES), CoRoT was first proposed in December 1996. It was placed into a circular polar orbit at an altitude of 827 km, with a planned mission duration of 2.5 years.

CoRoT's main tasks included:

  • Detecting planets in other stellar systems as they pass in front of their parent stars, blocking some of the light.

  • Studying stellar interiors by detecting the ripples spreading across a star's surface, altering its brightness. These ripples help astronomers calculate the star's precise mass, age, and chemical composition.

The spacecraft consisted of a 30-centimeter space telescope and used two cameras—one for each mission objective (exoplanet search and asteroseismology)—along with onboard computer processors. It closely monitored changes in star brightness caused by planets transiting in front of them. Additionally, CoRoT detected 'starquakes,' acoustical waves generated deep inside a star that send ripples across its surface, altering its brightness, a technique known as asteroseismology. ESA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has conducted similar observations of the Sun for years.

From the ground, mostly giant gaseous worlds (Jupiter-like planets), over ten times the diameter of Earth, have been detected around other stars; therefore, spacecraft and space telescopes are vital for the search for extrasolar planets. CoRoT detected 33 exoplanets and one brown dwarf during the mission.

While proximity to a star typically precludes habitability due to high temperatures, a rocky world discovered around a red dwarf star might be at just the right distance for liquid water to exist on its surface.

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

Mission Results:

  • First exoplanet detection: CoRoT-1b, detected in May 2007.

  • Rocky exoplanet discovery: CoRoT-7b, discovered in 2009, was the first exoplanet proven to have a rock or metal-dominated composition.

  • Starquake detection: CoRoT detected a starquake in a star other than the Sun in 2008.

  • Total exoplanet discoveries: 33 exoplanets and one brown dwarf were detected during the mission.

  • Asteroseismology contributions: CoRoT provided valuable data for asteroseismology, the study of star oscillations, which helps scientists understand the internal structure and composition of stars.

  • Mission duration: The CoRoT mission lasted from December 2006 to June 2014, with an intended duration of 2.5 years that was extended due to its success.

  • Spacecraft design: The CoRoT spacecraft featured a 27-centimeter off-axis afocal telescope and four CCD detectors protected by aluminum shielding.

  • Mission objectives: CoRoT aimed to detect extrasolar planets with short orbital periods and perform asteroseismology by measuring solar-like oscillations in stars.

  • Partnerships: The CoRoT mission was led by the French Space Agency (CNES) in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA) and other international partners.

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