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COROT mission

ESA Announces Discovery of Six New Exoplanets

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced today that its CoRoT (Convection, Rotation and planetary Transits) has discovered six new exoplanets (extrasolar planets). As announced, “CoRoT-8b, is about 70% of Saturn’s size and mass, while CoRoT-10b, CoRoT-11b, CoRoT-12b, CoRoT-13b and CoRoT-14b are larger, belonging to the class known as ‘hot Jupiters’. CoRoT-15b, being 60 times as massive as Jupiter, is a brown dwarf, an intermediate object between a planet and a star.” Read more about the six new exoplanets discovered by the COROT spacecraft online now here.

COROT Mission Completes Third Year

In a paper available online here, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) COnvection ROtation and planetary Transits (COROT) mission released a summary of its results to date. The paper also provides an excellent review of the mission and its goals, as well as its success in monitoring over 100,000 stars, and discovering some seven exoplanets. The exoplanets are reviewed and the possibilities for COROT discovering “even smaller, Earth sized planets” in its now extended mission, are discussed.

The Astronomer’s Universe – Exoplanets: How Do They Find Them?

 

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People are fascinated by exoplanets — worlds circling around other stars. I think that it’s intriguing to speculate about those other places and what they might be like.  And, someday, maybe we’ll have high-resolution images that reveal something about those distant worlds — including whether or not they support life forms. For now, however, astronomers are still in the “discovery” phase of planetary searches, and only recently have they been able to study the atmospheres of a few of those distant worlds.

Since the mid-1990s, astronomers have been finding those other planets with great regularity — to the point now where more than 350 of them are known.   Many of those discovered were found using ground-based observatories and painstaking analysis of the light signals from distant stars.  Orbiting observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope have been able to image those worlds, too, in addition to spotting them in the glare of the nearby stars.

The hunt for exoplanets is taking a huge leap forward as astronomers use targeted space-based instruments such as the Kepler satellite, the ESA Corot mission, and the upcoming Gaia mission (also from the ESA folks).  The search for Earth-like exoplanets is a huge scientific driver for these missions — and that’s exactly as it should be.  If it turns out that worlds like our home planet are rarer than the hot Jupiters that are currently being found, that will tell us something about the conditions where distant earths can form. It will also tell us a lot about the conditions where our Earth DID form some 4.5 billion years ago.  In a sense, the search for Earth-like planets is also a hunt for some understanding of how our own solar system was created.

Now, the search for extrasolar planets — whether you’re using a ground-based telescope or a space-based mission — isn’t an easy task. In this month’s episode of The Astronomer’s Universe, I discuss the methods that astronomers use to spot worlds near stars. They all involve some rather sophisticated techniques that analyze the light coming from a star to see if there are planets orbiting that star.  In one technique, the gravitational tug of a planet on a star forces a wobble in the star’s motion through space — and you can spot that motion in the spectrum of the star.  In another technique, astronomers look for changes in the intensity of starlight as a planet crosses between us and the parent star — a sort of “mini-eclipse.”  I’ve got more details in the episode, so check it out. And, watch the news for discoveries of more planets, particularly from the Kepler mission.

November 2014
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