Planet-hunting telescope near death

Nov. 20, 2012 at 8:36 PM

PARIS, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- One of the first space telescopes to hunt for planets outside our solar system may be near death after a radiation overdose, European astronomers say.

The COROT satellite, launched in 2006 to look for exoplanets by watching for dips in light when they pass in front of their host stars, has lost the use of its only remaining on-board computer and can no longer receive data from its 12-inch telescope, NewScientist.com reported.

The culprit was too much radiation, because the orbiting spacecraft had spent a long time in a harsh particle environment 125 miles to 500 miles above the Earth called the South Atlantic Anomaly, scientists said.

Earth's magnetic field is especially weak at this region, exposing the COROT satellite to twice the amount of radiation during its orbital passages through the anomaly than it was designed to withstand.

COROT discovered the first rocky exoplanet, COROT-7b, 30 other confirmed planets and about 500 planet candidates, scientists said.

Mission managers say there's a slim chance the spacecraft can be revived.

"It depends on where the damage is," project scientist Malcolm Fridlund of the European Space Agency said. "There are some spare parts on board, and if it is in any of these, something positive may still happen."

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