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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:

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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.

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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 ESA

Via German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Read more: Visit CHEOPS website

Paul Scott Anderson

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Rumbling meteor lights up Norway, a bit possibly landing near Oslo – Euronews

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By Nora Buli

OSLO -An “unusually large meteor” briefly lit up southern Norway on Sunday, creating a spectacular sound and light display as it rumbled across the sky, and a bit of it may have hit Earth, possibly not far from the capital, Oslo, experts said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Reports of sightings started arriving around 1 a.m. with the phenomena being seen as far north as Trondheim.

A web camera in Holmestrand, south of Oslo, captured a fireball falling from the sky and erupting into a bright flash lighting up a marina.

The Norwegian Meteor network was analysing video footage and other data on Sunday to try to pinpoint the meteor’s origin and destination.

Preliminary data suggested a meteorite may have hit Earth in a large wooded area, called Finnemarka, just 60 km (40 miles) west of the capital, Oslo, the network said.

“This was crazy,” the network’s Morten Bilet, who saw and heard the meteor, told Reuters.

By Sunday afternoon no debris had been found and given the “demanding” location, one could take “some 10 years” searching for possible meteorites, Bilet said.

The meteor travelled at 15-20 km per second and lit up the night sky for about five to six seconds, Bilet said. The summer sky was dark, with the days starting to get shorter from the end of June.

Some eyewitnesses also said they felt a stronger wind blow with the event also causing a pressure wave, Bilet said.

“What we had last night was a large rock travelling likely from between Mars and Jupiter, which is our asteroid belt. And when that whizzes in, it creates a rumble, light and great excitement among us (experts) and maybe some fear among others,” Bilet said.

There were no reports of damage or people being particularly frightened, Bilet said, adding that for those nearest it was likely more of a “spooky” event.

A meteor that exploded over the central Russia near the city of Chelyabinsk in 2013 rained fireballs over a vast area and caused a shock wave that smashed windows, damaged buildings and injured 1,200 people.

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Seaspan plan to expand North Van dry dock ruffles its waterfront neighbours – Vancouver Sun

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Seaspan’s plans to consolidate its ship repair business at Vancouver Drydock is running into opposition from its residential neighbours.

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Seaspan Shipbuilding is outgrowing its operations on the North Shore, but the company’s plans to expand its companion Vancouver Drydock is colliding with concerns of the residential neighbourhood that has grown up around the century-old industrial waterfront.

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Building new ships for the Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy was absorbing Seaspan’s capacity to repair ships at its main shipyard at the end of Pemberton Avenue, said company spokeswoman Kris Neely.

Neely said the company has been thinking about expanding for awhile, as part of a vision to create a “multi generational business.”

“As part of that, we’re consolidating our repair and maintenance services out of Vancouver Drydock and then being able to focus on shipbuilding efforts at our Vancouver Shipyard.”

Their plan is to push Seaspan’s existing dry dock facilities on the Lower Lonsdale waterfront 40 metres further into Burrard Inlet, then ask the Port of Vancouver to extend its water lot lease 40 metres to the west in order to add three smaller dry docks.

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Seaspan submitted an application for a review of the plan to the port in April. That federal authority deemed the application complete on June 21, opening up a public comment period. That included virtual public meetings July 13 and 15, and ends July 30.

Many of the comments from residents of condo towers that face the proposed expansion have expressed opposition to allowing Seaspan’s migration west when it has space to the east of its existing docks that is already within its lease.

It isn’t just a matter of views being blocked by new facilities jutting out in front of condos, said resident Al Parsons. Residents are concerned about the impact of additional noise and pollution, including tug boats operating in the waters in front of Shipyard Commons, the bustling commercial district and public space with its waterfront trail and a playground.

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“We knew Seaspan was our neighbour when we moved in,” Parsons said. “What we didn’t know was that they were going to continue to move westward and, I think, impose themselves on the (waterfront) Spirit Trail.

“It has walkers, joggers, cyclists, there’s a playground that was built for kids, which is going to be right beside this expansion.”

Parsons said residents aren’t opposed to the idea of expansion and support an initiative that Seaspan says would create 100 jobs, but don’t like there wasn’t any consultation before the company submitted its application.

And they are pushing back against a possible westward expansion, unless Seaspan proves it cannot expand east within their existing lease.

The City of North Vancouver is working on a response to Seaspan’s proposal, but would like to see the public comment period extended and all resident and business concerns taken into consideration.

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“I understand the concerns and share many of them,” Mayor Linda Buchanan said in a statement. “This project will bring more family-supporting jobs to the community, but the quality of life of residents needs to be a priority as well.”

Neely said Seaspan did look at other options for this expansion, but siting the new dry docks on the east side of its operations would block water access to a fabrication shop on the site that builds components for new vessels at Vancouver Shipyards.

However, Parsons argued that the east side is perhaps more inconvenient for Seaspan, which would be free to use the east side of its property for other purposes if it were granted a westward expansion.

“I know the water lot is deemed industrial but, frankly, Seaspan is pushing too hard on this neighbourhood that a lot of people contribute tax dollars to support annually.”

depenner@postmedia.com

twitter.com/derrickpenner

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NASA selects SpaceX for mission to Jupiter moon Europa – Jakarta Post

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NASA on Friday said it had selected SpaceX to launch a planned voyage to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, a huge win for Elon Musk’s company as it sets its sights deeper into the solar system.

The Europa Clipper mission will launch in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with the total contract worth $178 million.

The mission was previously supposed to take off on NASA’s own Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which has been plagued by delays and cost overruns, with critics calling it a “jobs program” for the state of Alabama where much of the development work is taking place.

While SLS isn’t yet operational, Falcon Heavy has deployed on both commercial and government missions since its maiden flight in 2018 when it carried Musk’s own Tesla Roadster into space.

It generates more than five million pounds of thrust (22 million Newtons) at liftoff, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft.

The Europa clipper orbiter will make about 40 to 50 close passes over Europa to determine whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.

Its payload will include cameras and spectrometers to produce high-resolution images and compositional maps of the surface and atmosphere, as well as radar to penetrate the ice layer to search for liquid water below.

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