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Europe's Planet-Hunting Space Telescope Launched

According to the website Spaceflight Now, a Russian Soyuz 2-1b rocket with the European COROT space observatory launched at 1423 GMT (9:23 a.m. EST) from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. The French-led COROT mission will look for rocky planets around other stars.

Flying highabove the Earth's atmosphere, the Convection Rotation and planetary Transits(COROT) satellite [[image] will use a different technique better suited to findingsmaller worlds. Called the "transit" technique [image], it will detect extrasolar planets by measuring the dip instarlight their passage creates as they glide across the face of their parentstars.

COROT's 27centimeter (10.6 inch) lens will monitor the brightness of the stars, lookingfor the slight dip in starlight caused by the planet's passage. COROT will beable to monitor hundreds of thousands of stars simultaneously and will turn itsunblinking eye toward different parts of the sky for 150 days at a time. COROTis expected to find between 10 to 40 rocky worlds over the course of its twoand a half year mission, along with tens of new gas giant planets.

As it'sobserving a star for signs of a planet's passage, COROT will also watch for "starquakes," acoustical waves generated deep inside stars whichripple across a star's surface, altering its brightness. This information canbe used to calculate a star's precise mass, age and chemical composition.

In 2008,NASA will launch Kepler, a space telescope that works in the same way as COROT, butwhich will be able to detect the first Earth-sized planets in similar orbits toour own world.

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