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Scientists ready to search for more planets

The first space mission dedicated to searching for planets outside the solar system will launch in late December, the European Space Agency said Tuesday.

Roughly 12 years in the making, the so-called COROT mission will get off the ground Dec. 21 with the launch of a specialized space telecope aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. In orbit, the telecope will be used to detect rocky, extrasolar planets by observing changes of light when these bodies transit in front of a parent star.

The French space agency CNES is responsible for the mission, along with the European Space Agency (ESA), among others.

The ESA said that during its two-year mission, COROT should expand the number of known exoplanets and provide the first detection of rocky planets, which could be a few times the mass of the Earth. "COROT could detect so many planets of this new type, together with plenty of the old type, that astronomers will be able to make statistical studies of them," Malcolm Fridlund, ESA's Project Scientist for COROT, said in a statement.