CoRoT Space Observatory

The CoRoT satellite in the integration hall of Thales Alenia Space, Cannes

The CoRoT satellite in the integration hall of Thales Alenia Space, Cannes

On December 27, 2006, the European space observatory CoRoT was launched. CoRoT‘s two objectives are to search for extrasolar planets with short orbital periods, particularly those of large terrestrial size, and to perform asteroseismology by measuring solar-like oscillations in stars.

CoRoT stands for COnvection ROtation and planetary Transits (French: COnvection ROtation et Transits planétaires) and is a space observatory mission led by the French Space Agency (CNES) in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA) and other international partners. It was launched in December 2006 and reported first light on 18 January 2007. CoRoT became the first spacecraft dedicated to the detection of transiting extrasolar planets, opening the way for more advanced probes such as Kepler as well as future missions such as TESS and PLATO.

The scientific breakthroughs possible through the help of CoRoT’s data in the field of asteroseismology includes the extension of the chemically mixed zone in main sequence stars. That means that above the convective core, some layers can be affected by partial or total mixing during the main sequence phase of evolution. This involves longer time scales for nuclear burning phases and may in particular affect the value of the stellar mass at the transition between those stars which end up their life as white dwarfs and those which face a final supernova explosion. Further impact of the CoRoT observatory involves red giants. They have an extended convective envelope favorable to the excitation of solar-like oscillations. A major success of CoRoT has been the discovery of radial and long-lived non-radial oscillations in thousands of red giants in the exo field. For each of them, the frequency at maximum power νmax in the frequency spectrum as well as the large frequency separation between consecutive modes Δν could be measured, defining a sort of individual seismic passport.

Considering exoplanets, CoRoT was able to detect the first (COROT-1b) in 2007. In February 2009, during the First Corot Symposium, the super-earth COROT-7b was announced, which at the time was the smallest exoplanet to have its diameter confirmed, at 1.58 Earth diameters. The discoveries of a second non-transiting planet in the same system, COROT-7c, and of a new Hot Jupiter, COROT-6b, were also announced at the Symposium. In June 2011, during the Second CoRoT Symposium, the probe added ten new objects to the Exoplanet catalogue. As of Fall 2011, around 600 additional candidate exoplanets are being screened for confirmation

On 2 November 2012, CoRoT suffered a computer failure that made it impossible to retrieve any data from its telescope. After repair attempts, in June 2013, it was announced that CoRoT has been retired and would be decommissioned, lowered in orbit to allow it to burn up in the atmosphere.

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