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Europe’s CHEOPS mission will shed light on strange new worlds – EarthSky




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Artist’s concept of the just-launched CHEOPS space telescope, which will study hundreds of exoplanets in greater detail than ever before. Image via ESA/ ATG medialab/ DLR.

After a one-day delay, the European Space Agency (ESA) successfully launched its CHEOPS mission last week, on the morning of December 18, 2019, from the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. CHEOPS is the first ESA mission dedicated to studying exoplanets, those distant worlds orbiting other stars. NASA’s planet-hunting space missions, first Kepler and now TESS, have been finding new exoplanets. CHEOPS will study hundreds of exoplanets already known to exist – out of 4,000-plus now confirmed – to determine their sizes, masses, densities and possible atmospheres.

In this way, CHEOPS will take us some steps along the road of finding out what many exoworlds are actually like, not an easy task.

CHEOPS stands for CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite. The telescope will reside in a sun-synchronous orbit around Earth at an altitude of more than 400 miles (700 km). Kate Isaak, CHEOPS project scientist, said in a statement:

We are very excited to see the satellite blast off into space. There are so many interesting exoplanets and we will be following up on several hundreds of them, focusing in particular on the smaller planets in the size range between Earth and Neptune. They seem to be the commonly found planets in our Milky Way galaxy, yet we do not know much about them. CHEOPS will help us reveal the mysteries of these fascinating worlds, and take us one step closer to answering one of the most profound questions we humans ponder: are we alone in the universe?

Watch the launch below:


Heike Rauer, Director of the DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin, said:

More than 4000 exoplanets have been discovered in the Milky Way, yet we still know far too little about these distant worlds in our cosmic neighborhood. We are all eager to see which ‘faces’ the planets characterized by CHEOPS will show us.

So how does CHEOPS observe these planets?

Like some other telescopes, it will watch as the planets transit in front of their stars, as seen from Earth. As Juan Cabrera Perez, Head of the Extrasolar Planets and Atmospheres Department at the DLR Institute of Planetary Research, explained:

We could describe this fluctuation in brightness as a ‘mini stellar eclipse’, as the transiting exoplanet reduces the intensity of the light from the star for a short time. This fluctuation can be measured and analyzed – an area in which we can contribute suitable tools and many years of experience.

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Rocket launch from low angle with flame beneath rocket and many bright spots in foreground.

Cool photo of CHEOPS launch, December 18, 2019. Image via ESA/ S. Corvaja.

CHEOPS will focus on some of the most common exoplanets discovered so far, ranging in size from Earth to Neptune, or about approximately 6,000 to 30,000 miles (10,000 to 50,000 km) in diameter. Using data from the transits, CHEOPS can determine the size, mass and density of the planets. All of these are important in order for scientists to figure out the planets’ compositions. Some will be rocky like Earth, while others will have deep, gaseous atmospheres like Neptune or even Jupiter or Saturn. Knowing this will also help scientists determine which of these worlds might be potentially habitable. Of course, rocky planets similar in size to Earth, or a bit larger – super-Earths – would be the most interesting in this regard. Nicola Rando, CHEOPS project manager, said:

Both CHEOPS instrument and spacecraft are built to be extremely stable, so as to measure the incredibly small variations in the light of distant stars as their planets transit in front of them. For a planet like Earth, this amounts to the equivalent of watching the sun from a distant star and measuring its light dim by a tiny fraction of a percent. Now we are looking forward to the first part of the operational activities, making sure that the satellite and instrument perform as expected, ready for scientists to perform their world-class science.


CHEOPS will also be able to find out which of these planets do have atmospheres and whether they have clouds. This will help differentiate between deep, gaseous primordial atmospheres with no real solid surface beneath them, and thinner atmospheres like those on terrestrial planets such as Earth, Venus or Mars.

CHEOPS is just the first of three planned ESA missions to study exoplanets.

The Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) space telescope, expected to launch in 2026, will focus on searching for “Earth-like” planets, ones that are rocky and about the same size as Earth orbiting in their stars’ habitable zones. So far, most such worlds have been found orbiting red dwarf stars, the most common type of star in our galaxy. CHEOPS, however, will look for these planets around sun-like stars. It will also be able to determine the age of these planetary systems with more accuracy than possible before.

A couple of years later, in 2028, ESA will launch the Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) mission, which will study the atmospheres of exoplanets. As well as atmospheric composition, this will help scientists develop a comprehensive catalog of exoplanetary orbits, radii, masses, densities and ages.

All three of these exciting missions, and others, will greatly increase our knowledge of these exotic, far-off worlds.

Diagrams of spacecraft with text annotations on black background.

View larger. | Timeline of ESA and NASA exoplanet missions, including CHEOPS. Image via ESA.

As Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science, said:

CHEOPS will take exoplanet science to a whole new level. After the discovery of thousands of planets, the quest can now turn to characterization, investigating the physical and chemical properties of many exoplanets and really getting to know what they are made of and how they formed. CHEOPS will also pave the way for our future exoplanet missions, from the international James Webb Telescope to ESA’s very own PLATO and ARIEL satellites, keeping European science at the forefront of exoplanet research.

The CHEOPS mission is a partnership between ESA and Switzerland with additional contributions from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. More than 100 scientists and engineers are involved. The nominal mission is expected to last 3 1/2 years. While the CHEOPS science team has the bulk of observation time, 20% of the time is reserved for other scientists from around the world.

CHEOPS and the coming follow-up missions will open an exciting new chapter in exoplanetary study. What fascinating discoveries will they make?

Bottom line: ESA has successfully launched its CHEOPS space telescope to study hundreds of exoplanets in more detail than ever before.


Via German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Read more: Visit CHEOPS website

Paul Scott Anderson

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Tla'amin Nation COVID-19 survivor warns virus spreads easily and recovery is difficult – Yahoo News Canada



Brandon Peters was keeping his bubble small this summer.

The Vancouver resident planted a “COVID garden” and planned on playing it as safe as possible during the pandemic. Those plans were derailed, and so was his health, after attending the funeral of a loved one on Tla’amin Nation territory on the north Sunshine Coast near Powell River, B.C. 

Peters, a member of the nation, was diagnosed with COVID-19 within days of the visit. After spending most of September in bed fighting the virus, he is now speaking out publicly to warn people just how hard that fight can be.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content=""I opened myself up for just a minute, a couple people hugged me, and I got sick within a couple of days," said Peters Thursday on On The Island.” data-reactid=”15″>”I opened myself up for just a minute, a couple people hugged me, and I got sick within a couple of days,” said Peters Thursday on On The Island.

He said when he left the north Sunshine Coast, he was so overcome with fatigue he could not complete the 80 kilometre drive to the Langdale Ferry Terminal to catch a ferry to the Lower Mainland. Instead, he had to pull over and sleep.

Peters did make it back to Vancouver though, only to have a horrible night where he said he felt “deep pain” throughout his body and had an excruciating headache. 

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Down for the count” data-reactid=”18″>Down for the count

The next day he got tested for COVID-19. The day after that, he learned he was positive.

For the next few weeks, Peters lay in bed so overcome with exhaustion he said he couldn’t eat anything and drank only water.

“The fatigue was so intense I would have to gather my gumption just to go to the washroom,” he said.

In a recently uploaded video on the Tla’amin Nation’s Facebook page, Peters says he wondered every day while bed-ridden if he was going to make it to see another week.

Fortunately, Peters was never hospitalized and says he now has about 80 per cent of his strength back. Now he wants to tell others his story to try and prevent anyone from going through the harrowing ordeal he did — or worse.

The video is part of sharing that story.

“People might look at me like a leper over the next little while but I think if I help a couple people it will make the video worthwhile,” said Peters.

He said it is important to him that people take the risks of the virus seriously and stop engaging in activities that could put themselves or others at risk.

“This is going to be with us for a while and we need to make those responsible decisions.”

According to a media release from the Tla’amin Nation, there have been 36 positive COVID-19 cases reported in the nation since September 7.

The community is currently in a state of local emergency and non-approved visitors are restricted from Tla’amin land.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="To hear the complete interview with Brandon Peters on On The Island, tap here.” data-reactid=”30″>To hear the complete interview with Brandon Peters on On The Island, tap here.

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NASA says bus-sized asteroid safely buzzed Earth | TheHill – The Hill



NASA reported that an asteroid roughly the size of a school bus passed by Earth early Thursday morning, traveling from about 13,000 miles away. 

According to the government space agency, the rock made its closest approach to Earth around 7 a.m. EDT on Thursday, passing over the Southeastern Pacific Ocean. 

NASA first reported on the asteroid on Tuesday, saying that scientists estimated the space rock was about 15 to 30 feet wide. Scientists predict that the asteroid will now travel around the sun and not make its way back into the Earth’s vicinity until 2041. 


Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said Tuesday that space rocks such as these are relatively common and are not considered a threat to life on Earth. 

“There are a large number of tiny asteroids like this one, and several of them approach our planet as close as this several times every year,” Chodas said. “In fact, asteroids of this size impact our atmosphere at an average rate of about once every year or two.”

He added that “the detection capabilities of NASA’s asteroid surveys are continually improving, and we should now expect to find asteroids of this size a couple days before they come near our planet.” 


NASA said that while Thursday’s asteroid was not on a trajectory to hit Earth, it would have likely broken up in the atmosphere and become a bright meteor, known as a fireball, before causing any damage. 

This comes a month after NASA reported that an asteroid is on a path toward Earth one day before the U.S. presidential election, although the agency said that the chances of it actually hitting the Earth’s surface are less than 1 percent. NASA confirmed in a statement to The Hill last month that the rock would not pose a threat. 

“If it were to enter our planet’s atmosphere, it would disintegrate due to its extremely small size,” a spokesperson said in the statement. “NASA has been directed by Congress to discover 90% of the near-Earth asteroids larger than 140 meters (459 feet) in size and reports on asteroids of any size.”

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UM physicists part of international team for historic first – UM Today



September 24, 2020 — 

UM researchers on an international team of physicists have made the first precise measurement of the weak force between particles in the universe, verifying a theory of the Standard Model of Particle Physics.

Using a device called the the Spallation Neutron Source at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the scientists were able to measure the weak force exerted between protons and neutrons by detecting the miniscule electrical signal produced when a neutron and a helium-3 nucleus combined and then decayed moving through a target. 

The result was published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

As described in the online news site Mirage News

The Standard Model describes the basic building blocks of matter in the universe and fundamental forces acting between them. Calculating and measuring the weak force between protons and neutrons is an extremely difficult task.

Their finding yielded the smallest uncertainty of any comparable weak force measurement in the nucleus of an atom to date, which establishes an important benchmark.

UM physicist Dr. Michael Gericke said:

When a neutron and a helium-3 nucleus combine, the reaction produces an excited, unstable helium-4 isotope, decaying to one proton and one triton (consisting of two neutrons and one proton), both of which produce a tiny but detectable electrical signal as they move through the helium gas in the target cell.”

Gericke led the group that built the combined helium-3 target and detector system designed to pick up the very small signals and led the subsequent analysis.

Read the Mirage News story here.

An analysis and explanation of the discovery is here.

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