The launch of COROT is excellent news, but the work is only just beginning for the team behind what will be the first of several planet-hunting missions. The hard bit is extracting the tiny signal which represents the transit of a Earth across the face of a star from the huge mass of data. COROT’s chosen tactic is to stick to one field for 150 days and then move on, and obviously being in space will also help with removing many sources of interference that affect ground-based searches. I hope they’re successful, but we’ve had an excellent warning as to how hard this is.
I was really pleased we featured SuperWASP on the Sky at Night – it seemed an excellent example of a rapidly put together, cheap, experiment based on a simple but brilliant idea (in this case, using camera lenses and top-quality cameras to survey the whole sky). At the time (2004, if memory serves) I expected it to produce a plethora of planet discoveries, but two years on and we’re only just reporting on the first two. I don’t mean to disparage their efforts, but it’s certainly surprised me how difficult this is. Let’s see how COROT gets on.
(More on this in my state of the Universe report coming up before New Year).