"First light" for COROT

Space Telescope takes first picture

The first shot of the space telescope COROT. CNES
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The Space Telescope COROT launched into space on 27 December 2006 has now opened its "eye" for the first time. The first shot of the telescope, designed specifically for the discovery of Earth-like planets, confirms the hoped-for high quality of the data. After a short test phase, the official observatory will begin in February.

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The search for extraterrestrial planets is an important research field of astronomy. So far, however, only at least Jupiter large gas giants could be located. For the mostly smaller stony, and thus rather earth-like planet, the resolution of previous instruments was not enough. The COROT mission, financed by the European Space Agency ESA and the French space agency CNES, is intended to remedy this situation. The space telescope, which is only 30 centimeters wide, specializes in identifying the minimal fluctuations in the brightness of stars, as they are caused by the passing of a planet in front of the star.

At the same time, the telescope will also be the first European mission to collect data in the relatively new field of asteroseismology. The aim is to identify fine quake waves on the surface of a star based on the smallest differences in brightness and to deduce the chemical composition, age and mass of the star.

The space telescope orbits the earth in a nearly circular orbit between 895 and 906 kilometers. Since 2 January 2007 the calibration process of the light sensors has been running, which paradoxically has to be in complete darkness. Pixel by pixel, the detectors are tested for their functionality and correct setting. The first shot of COROT was taken on January 18 of this year, when the telescope's protective cover was removed after this calibration and for the first time the starlight reached the "eyes" of the telescope. With its back to the center of the Milky Way, COROT turned its gaze to the stars in the constellation "Unicorn", a region near the well-known winter star image of Orion. display

The recording made for relief among the responsible scientists, because its quality is as good as hoped. "That's really good news, " said Malcolm Fridlund, project scientist at ESA.

(ESA, 25.01.2007 - NPO)