France launches mini satellite to unravel mysteries of distant planet


France on Friday will launch a nanosatellite, PicSat, into orbit to observe a mysterious, relatively young planet system in our Milky Way galaxy.



Developed by a team of researchers from the High Angular Resolution Astronomy group at the Paris Observatory/LESIA laboratory in France and backed by the European Research Council (ERC), PicSat is scheduled to be launched on Friday morning on an Indian PSLV rocket.

Equipped with a 5-centimeter optical telescope and solar panels to power its systems, the miniature satellite will orbit Earth at an altitude of some 500 kilometers to learn more about the massive star Beta Pictoris and its planet Beta Pictoris b, according to the scientists managing the mission.

Discovered in 1984, Beta Pictoris is located some 60 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Pictor (The Painter's Easel). It is only 20 million years old, has a mass about 1.8 times that of our sun and is surrounded by a huge disc of of carbon- and oxygen-rich debris — the materials from which cosmic bodies are formed.