June 15, 2011

CoRoT Satellite Finds 10 New Exoplanets

The French-led CoRoT (Convection, Rotation and planetary Transits) satellite has found ten new planets outside our Solar System.

The new find brings the total number of known exoplanets to 561. 

CoRoT launched in 2006 and it spots planets by measuring the tiny dip in stellar light that occurs when planets pass between the stars and the Earth.

The spacecraft has added 23 planetary systems to the roster so far.

CoRoT went into orbit shortly after NASA's Kepler, which is a similar mission that looks for new planets.

In its most recent find, seven of the ten newly discovered planets are "hot Jupiters," which are gas giant planets similar to Jupiter but far closer to their star.

Two more of the planets orbit the star CoRoT-24 and have a diameter equal to and about 1.4 times that of Neptune.

One of the hot Jupiter planets orbits the star CoRoT-18, which is believed to be just 600 million years old.  Astrophysicists are interested in this because there is still a lot to be learned from the earliest stages of planet formation.

"If we want to understand the conditions in which planets form, we need to catch them within the first few hundred million years," Suzanne Aigrain, a University of Oxford astrophysicist who is part of the CoRoT team, said in a statement.

"In the case of CoRoT-18, different ways of determining the age give different results, but it's possible that the star might be only a few tens of millions of years old. If this is confirmed, then we could learn a lot about the formation and early evolution of hot gas giant planets by comparing the size of CoRoT-18b to the predictions of theoretical models."


Image Caption: The CoRoT spacecraft. Credit: CNES/Active Design


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