French space agency CNES will launch its Corot satellite in 2005 as a pathfinder for the European Space Agency's (ESA) Eddington and Darwin planet hunters.

ESA is part-funding the Corot project, which will be able "to detect rocky planets orbiting other stars", as well as gaseous giant planets. Scientists believe that Corot will be able to "find 10 to 40 rocky planets several sizes larger than Earth".

Eddington, to be launched in 2007, will search for planets half the size of Earth, while the eight-satellite Darwin system will take images of Earth-like planets "to search for signs of life" light years away, says ESA.

But astronauts have never been able to see life on Earth from the moon - a distance of just 384,000km (240,000 miles).

Source: Flight International