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Champagne box-sized satellite launched to probe distant planet

AFP  |  Paris 

launched a champagne box-sized mini into Earth orbit today to study a mysterious, juvenile system in our galaxy, mission controllers said.

Weighing in at 3.5 kilogrammes, the PicSat was hoisted into by an Indian PSLV rocket, and placed into orbit at an altitude of 505 kilometres, according to the Paris Observatory, involved in the project.

PicSat's target is the massive star Beta Pictoris, some 60 light years from Earth in the southern constellation of (The Painter's Easel), and its b -- a gassy giant.

From Earth orbit, it will seek to learn more about the faraway by observing the next time it transits its host star, appearing as a dot on the bright surface as seen from our perspective.

This once-in-18-year transit is expected some time in 2018.

By measuring how much light a planet blocks out as it transits its star, astronomers can glean details about its size and the composition of its atmosphere.

PicSat comes equipped with a telescope for observation, and solar panels to power all its systems.

Discovered in 1984, has a mass about 1.8 times that of our Sun.

It is young in astronomical terms -- only about 20 million years old compared to the Sun's 4.5 billion years.

It is surrounded by a huge disc of gas and dust -- the materials from which planets, asteroids and comets are formed -- making it an ideal subject for studying the mechanism by which evolve.

b is about 16 times larger and 3,000 times more massive than Earth, with eight-hour days. It orbits its star at a distance eight times that of Earth to the Sun.

In 2014, scientists said the planet spins at a breakneck speed of some 25 kilometres per second (90,000 kph or 56,000 miles per hour).

Built at the Paris Observatory's LESIA laboratory, with European backing, PicSat has a total budget of 1.5 million euros ($1.8 million).

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, January 12 2018. 21:00 IST