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ESA CHEOPS Mission Launches to Study Evolution of Planets Orbiting Nearby Suns
By Matthias Klaus
The CHEOPS mission blasted off from Kourou, French Guiana atop a Russian Soyuz rocket on Wednesday. The launch came 24 hours after a first attempt was delayed shortly before liftoff because of a software problem in the upper stage of the rocket.
Scientists have long theorized with near certainty that there are countless planets in the universe, given the sheer numbers of stars. But it has only been possible to truly prove this since the 1990s.
Since then, thousands of so-called exoplanets, i.e. planets outside our solar system, have been discovered. As of yet, we don't know what these planets consist of or whether they have atmospheres.
That's why the CHEOPS mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing to investigate some of the known exoplanets in more detail.
Measuring the Light Intensity of Stars
CHEOPS stands for "CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite," a satellite for the exploration of exoplanets. Despite the fact that exoplanets are incredibly far away from us (far outside our solar system, orbiting around distant stars), the mission is actually not that expensive.
"CHEOPS is a small mission in terms of scope, cost and also in terms of the time it takes to develop the mission," says Kate Isaak, a scientific coordinator of CHEOPS. "The mission is to measure the size of planets orbiting nearby suns."
And this is how it works: when a planet passes a star on its orbit, the star's light becomes darker for a short time. This is like a small solar eclipse that can be observed by CHEOPS.
And even if the same planet is placed behind the star from the point of the observer, it reflects the light of the star back. CHEOPS can still see that, too. Astronomers can compute the size of the planet from the attenuation of the light. And the light reflections emitted by the planet itself provide clues as to whether, for example, it has an atmosphere.
A Closer Look at Known Exoplanets
"By combining the size of the planets with their mass, something we can measure with telescopes on Earth, we learn a lot about the composition of the planets and their evolution," says Isaak.
All these differences are, of course, very small, since the stars and planets observed are several light years away. In order to be able to measure them at all, any disturbance must be excluded.
That's the reason why such observations are best made using space-based telescopes rather than those on Earth. The Earth's atmosphere would simply get in the way. CHEOPS is designed to target planets that are larger than Earth and smaller than Neptune.
Will CHEOPS Find Aliens?
The mission will take three and a half years. But, this time, the question of all questions will not be answered.
"The question of whether we are alone in the universe is certainly one of the most fundamental questions ever," says Isaak. But CHEOPS will not get that far. "Other satellites have shown that there are planets beyond our solar system. So it is clear that there are exoplanets. What we want to show now is what these smaller rock planets are like and how they evolve."
After all, it should be possible to identify at least some planets on which extraterrestrial life is at least conceivable.
"What we are looking for now are the best planetary candidates for future exploration by other satellites such as the James Webb Space Telescope or by observatories [such as the European Southern Observatory (ESO)] in South America. From there, we can study the atmospheres of these candidates and search for molecules characteristic of the presence of life."
Modular Research Satellite Design
In addition to the scientific findings that the CHEOPS mission will provide, the ESA looking for ways of making research satellites cheaper. The satellite developers have come up with new technologies for this purpose.
"Satellites are very expensive and very complex to build. And these programs always take a very long time," says Richard Southworth of the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC). He is responsible for controlling the CHEOPS satellite.
"With CHEOPS, the idea was to see if we could do it better, a little faster and less costly. We have tried to keep the probe relatively simple and above all to use parts that have flown on other missions before. These components will then be less expensive and more reliable because they have already been tested."
ESA also saves on the transport of the probe into space: CHEOPS flies on a Soyuz rocket as cargo. So the project shares the travel costs with another — in this case an Italian — satellite.
And even if the satellite is already in the sky, there is still an opportunity to reduce costs. The CHEOPS researchers use the flying telescope only 80 percent of the time. The rest of the time others can rent it for their own research.
Scrapping Already Firmly Scheduled
The research itself will then begin after a test period of several months. But what happens to CHEOPS when the project is finished?
"It's planned to operate for three and a half years," says satellite controller Southworth. "But the design of the satellite should ensure that we could also fly for five years if there is money and interest. In the end, we deactivate the satellite and initiate de-orbiting."
The satellite will first be switched into a passive mode so that it can no longer interfere with radio signals or other satellites.
"Finally, we will also make an orbit correction. This will lead to the satellite's safe return to Earth. That means CHEOPS won't become space debris in the long run."
In the end, the probe will burn and disintegrate when entering the earth's atmosphere.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Daniel Yetman
Bleach and vinegar are common household cleaners used to disinfect surfaces, cut through grime, and get rid of stains. Even though many people have both these cleaners in their homes, mixing them together is potentially dangerous and should be avoided.
Can You Mix Bleach and Vinegar?<p>Bleach can refer to any chemical that's used to get rid of stains or disinfect surfaces. The most typical form used as a cleaner is sodium hypochlorite. By itself, bleach can damage your skin but is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441921/" target="_blank">non-toxic</a> when inhaled. However, it can become potentially lethal to inhale when mixed with other household cleaners.</p><p>Sodium hypochlorite is made up of a sodium, oxygen, and chlorine atoms. When this molecule is mixed with the acetic acid in vinegar or other types of acid, it releases chlorine gas. <a href="https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/chlorine/basics/facts.asp" target="_blank">Chlorine gas</a> is extremely dangerous to human health. It's so powerful that Germany used it during World War I as a chemical weapon.</p><p>Vinegar isn't the only cleaner you need to be careful mixing with bleach. Bleach also reacts with <a href="https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/HealthyHome/Contaminants/BleachMixingDangers" target="_blank">ammonia</a> to create chlorine gas. Bleach can also react to some oven cleaners, insecticides, and hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>Many household cleaners contain a chemical called <a href="https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2019/acs-presspac-october-2-2019/cleaning-with-bleach-could-create-indoor-air-pollutants.html" target="_blank">limonene</a> that gives them a citrus smell. When bleach fumes mix with limonene, they create small particles that may be damaging to both people's and animals' health. However, more research is needed to examine these particles' potential health risks.</p>
Is it Safe to Mix Them in Small Amounts?<p>According to the <a href="https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/HealthyHome/Contaminants/BleachMixingDangers" target="_blank">Washington State Department of Health</a>, even low levels of chlorine gas, less than 5 parts per million (ppm), is likely to irritate your eyes, throat, and nose. It's never a good idea to mix these two cleaners together.</p><p>Unlike some other dangerous chemicals like carbon monoxide, chlorine gives off a distinctly <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537213/" target="_blank">pungent and irritating odor</a>. If you notice a strong smell after mixing cleaners, it's a good idea to immediately leave the area.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136961/" target="_blank">severity of symptoms</a> you develop after breathing in chlorine gas depends on how concentrated it is, measured in parts per million (ppm), and how long you inhale it.</p><ul><li><strong>0.1 to 0.3 ppm.</strong> At this level, humans can smell the pungent odor of chlorine gas in the air.</li><li><strong>5 to 15 ppm. </strong>A concentration over 5 ppm causes irritation to the mucus membranes in your mouth and nose.</li><li><strong>Over 30 ppm.</strong> At a concentration higher than 30 ppm, chlorine gas can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and coughing.</li><li><strong>Above 40 ppm.</strong> Concentrations higher than 40 ppm can cause potentially dangerous fluid build-up in your lungs.</li><li><strong>Above 430 ppm</strong>. Breathing in more than <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537213/" target="_blank">430 ppm</a> of chlorine gas can be lethal within 30 minutes.</li><li><strong>Above 1,000 ppm</strong>. Inhaling chlorine gas above this level can be deadly immediately.</li></ul>
Can You Combine Bleach and Vinegar in a Washing Machine?<p>Mixing bleach and vinegar in your washing machine is also a bad idea. Chlorine gas may be released from your washing machine when you take your clothes out. It may also leave traces of chlorine gas on your clothes.</p><p>If you use bleach in your laundry, it's a good idea to wait several loads before using vinegar.</p>
Symptoms of Exposure to a Bleach and Vinegar Reaction<p>The severity of the symptoms you'll develop after chlorine exposure depends on the amount of chlorine gas you inhale. Symptoms usually start fairly quickly. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537213/" target="_blank">Most people</a> exposed to low amounts of chlorine gas recover without complications.</p><p>If your exposure to chlorine gas is relatively brief, you may notice irritation of your nose, mouth, and throat. Lung irritation may develop if you breathe in chlorine deeply.</p><p>According to the <a href="https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/chlorine/basics/facts.asp" target="_blank">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a>, if you accidentally breathe in chlorine, you can experience the following:</p><ul><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/eye-health/sudden-blurred-vision" target="_blank">blurry vision</a></li><li>a burning sensation in your nose, throat, or eyes</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/cough" target="_blank">coughing</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/chest-pain" target="_blank">tightness in your chest</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/breathing-difficulties" target="_blank">trouble breathing</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/pulmonary-edema" target="_blank">fluid in your lungs</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nausea" target="_blank">nausea</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/vomiting" target="_blank">vomiting</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/epiphora" target="_blank">watery eyes</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/wheezing" target="_blank">wheezing</a></li></ul>
What to Do if You Get Bleach and Vinegar on Your Skin or Inhaled Chlorine Gas Vapors<p>There's <a href="https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/chlorine/basics/facts.asp" target="_blank">no cure</a> for breathing in chlorine gas. The only treatment option is removing the chlorine from your body as quickly as possible and seeking immediate medical attention to treat your symptoms.</p><p>If you breathe in chlorine gas, you can follow these steps to help get the chlorine out of your system:</p><ul><li>Immediately go somewhere where you can breathe in fresh air.</li><li>Change and wash any clothes that may have been contaminated.</li></ul><blockquote><strong>MEDICAL EMERGENCY<br><br></strong>If your symptoms are severe, call 911 or the National Capital Poison Center (NCPC) at 800-222-1222 and follow their instructions.<br></blockquote><p>Spilling <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bleach-on-skin#first-aid" target="_blank">bleach</a> can cause irritation to your skin. You can take the following steps to reduce your chances of developing complications:</p><ul><li>Remove jewelry or clothes that came in contact with bleach and clean them after you wash your skin.</li><li>Rinse your skin with a sponge or an absorbent cloth over a sink.</li><li>Avoid touching other parts of your body such as your face while cleaning.</li><li>Seek immediate medical attention if you spill bleach in your eyes or if you burn your skin.</li></ul><p>Vinegar may also irritate your skin. Even though it's unlikely to cause any serious health complications, it's a good idea to wash vinegar off your skin to avoid any redness or soreness.</p>
Takeaway<p>Mixing bleach and vinegar creates potentially lethal chlorine gas. If you notice a pungent smell after mixing household cleaners, you should immediately leave the area and try to breathe in fresh air.</p><p>If you or somebody you know notice any symptoms of chlorine gas poisoning, it's a good idea to immediately call 911 or the NCPC at 800-222-1222<em>.</em></p>
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Around 500 climate activists on Saturday gathered outside the new Datteln 4 coal power plant in Germany's Ruhr region, to protest against its opening.
Climate Activists Speak Out<p>Speaking at the protest, German Fridays for Futures climate activist Luisa Neubauer said: "It's a post-factual power plant. The facts speak for themselves." She said it was a "provocation," to mark the planned coal phaseout with a new coal power plant.</p><p>"We're going to stop this power plant, we're going to bring it to a standstill, we will win this conflict," Neubauer added.</p><p>Former miners also attended the protest. "We condemn the fact that coal mining in Germany was halted and jobs were lost, only for coal now to be imported from other countries to power Datteln 4," said Sebastian Suszka, a former workers' council member.</p><p>Greta Thunberg, founder of climate activist movement Fridays for Futures tweeted that Saturday was "a shameful day for Europe.</p>
Germany's Coal Phaseout<p>Earlier this year, Germany announced a roadmap to see coal phased out, at the latest by 2038. It laid out plans for eight coal-fired power plants to be taken off the grid in 2020.</p><p>It was an important step for the largest contributor of carbon emissions in the EU — accounting for more than 22 percent of the bloc's CO2 emissions. Over a third of the electricity generated in Germany comes from burning coal.</p><p>Germany's coal commission has recommended that solutions be found for coal plants that are already built but not-yet-in-use to keep them from operating.<br></p><p>The state of North-Rhine Westphalia insisted that the additional carbon dioxide emissions from the new plant would be compensated by the closure of four other power plants.</p>
By Julia Ries
Around the world, there have been several cases of people recovering from COVID-19 only to later test positive again and appear to have another infection.
The Viral Material in Re-Positive Cases Isn’t Infectious<p>The Korean study examined 285 patients who tested positive again for the new coronavirus after they recovered from COVID-19, which had been confirmed via a negative test result.</p><p>The researchers swabbed the patients and examined the viral material to determine whether it was still actively infectious.</p><p>The team was unable to isolate live viral material, indicating that the positive diagnostic tests were picking up dead virus particles.</p><p>"[This] may speak for the fact that the virus may be dead or not be fit enough to grow — therefore the virus may not be fit enough to infect a new host," said <a href="http://www.providence.org/doctors/profile/1099717-andres-romero" target="_blank">Dr. Andres Romero</a>, an infectious disease specialist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.</p><p>The researchers also tested 790 people who'd been in close contact with the "re-positive" patients. Of the 27 who tested positive, no cases appeared to be caused from exposure to someone who appeared to have a reinfection.</p><p>The report also found that the vast majority of recovered patients (96 percent) had neutralizing antibodies, indicating that they conferred immunity.</p><p>"Whether this is indicative of a completely protective response remains to be proven. If this study holds true, then people who have recovered can get back to work," Zapata said.</p><p>In response to the new findings, South Korea eliminated a policy requiring discharged patients to isolate for 2 weeks.</p>
Conducting and Interpreting PCR Tests<p>The tests widely used to diagnose COVID-19 are called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.</p><p>The tests swab a person's nose or throat and try to pick up the virus's genetic material, or RNA.</p><p>According to <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">guidance</a> from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a positive result on a PCR test doesn't "necessarily mean infectious virus is present or that the patient is contagious."</p><p>Infectious disease experts have suspected that the test kits aren't picking up actively infectious viral material in recovered patients who test positive again, but rather dead remnants of the virus.</p><p>We see this occur with other viruses, too.</p><p>"We know other viruses like parainfluenza, human metapneumovirus, or RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] may linger for months in certain patients, and that does not represent infectious state," Romero said. "Coronavirus may be the same."</p>
We Still Need to Practice Caution<p>While the findings are promising, infectious disease experts say we still need to practice caution.</p><p>More research is needed to validate these findings and determine whether they apply to distinct parts of the population, such as those who are immunocompromised.</p><p>It's common for immunocompromised patients — such as those with cancer — to continue testing positive for a virus for longer, since it takes their immune system more time to clear the virus out of their body.</p><p>"I don't think we can be 100 percent certain of whether each recovered person is no longer contagious. Again, this may differ with distinct population groups," Zapata said.</p><p>Physicians are seeing some hospitalized patients testing positive for a month after they were first swabbed for COVID-19. It's unclear whether these patients still shed infectious virus, according to Zapata.</p><p>Everyone's body mounts a distinct immune response based on their age and overall health. Different individuals will clear the virus out at different speeds, according to Zapata.</p><p>Until we have more data and a preventive vaccine, it's crucial to continue adhering to the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html" target="_blank">safety precautions</a> laid out by the CDC.</p><p>"The reality is that moving forward, the best approach will be keeping social/physical distancing, wearing a mask, and frequent hand hygiene in order to control the spread of the virus," Romero said.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Doctors and researchers have been unsure whether people who recover from COVID-19 who test positive again continue to be contagious, or if they could get a second infection.</p><p>New <a href="https://www.cdc.go.kr/board/board.es?mid=a30402000000&bid=0030" target="_blank">research</a> published by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that recovered COVID-19 patients who test positive again aren't infectious.</p><p>The study also found that most patients who recover have neutralizing antibodies that protect them from getting sick again.</p><p>Though the study is promising, health experts say we need more data to validate the findings and determine whether they apply to all patient populations.</p>
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By Samantha Hepburn
In the expansion of its iron ore mine in Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto blasted the Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 — Aboriginal rock shelters dating back 46,000 years. These sites had deep historical and cultural significance.
The destruction of a significant Aboriginal site is not an isolated incident. Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation
Not an Isolated Incident<p>The history of large developments destroying Indigenous heritage sites is, tragically, long.</p><p>A $2.1 billion light rail line in Sydney, completed last year, <a href="https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/this-is-a-tragic-loss-sydney-light-rail-construction-destroyed-heritage-site-20190322-p516qk.html" target="_blank">destroyed a site</a> of considerable significance.</p><p>More than 2,400 stone artifacts were unearthed in a small excavated area. It indicated Aboriginal people had used the area between 1788 and 1830 to manufacture tools and implements from flint brought over to Australia on British ships.</p><p>Similarly, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/27/the-rocks-remember-the-fight-to-protect-burrup-peninsulas-rock-art" target="_blank">ancient rock art</a> on the Burrup Peninsula in north-western Australia is under increasing threat from a gas project. The site contains more than one million rock carvings (petroglyphs) across 36,857 hectares.</p><p>This area is under the custodianship of Ngarluma people and four other traditional owners groups: the Mardudhunera, the Yaburara, the Yindjibarndi and the Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo.</p><p>But a <a href="https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/BurrupPeninusla/Report" target="_blank">Senate inquiry</a> revealed emissions from adjacent industrial activity may significantly damage it.</p><p><span></span>The West Australian government is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jan/29/australia-lodges-world-heritage-submission-for-50000-year-old-burrup-peninsula-rock-art" target="_blank">seeking world heritage listing</a> to try to increase protection, as the regulatory frameworks at the national and state level aren't strong enough. Let's explore why.</p>
What Do the Laws Say?<p>The recently renamed federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is responsible for listing new national heritage places, and regulating development actions in these areas.</p><p>At the federal level, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (<a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/epabca1999588/" target="_blank">EPBC Act</a>) provides a legal framework for their management and protection. It is an offence to impact an area that has national heritage listing.</p><p>But many ancient Aboriginal sites have no national heritage listing. For the recently destroyed Juurkan gorge, the true archaeological significance was uncovered <em>after</em> consent had been issued and there were no provisions to reverse or amend the decision once this new information was discovered.</p><p>Where a site has no national heritage listing, and federal legislation has no application, state laws apply.</p><p>For the rock shelters in the Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto was abiding by Western Australia's <a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/wa/consol_act/aha1972164/" target="_blank">Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972</a> — which is now nearly 50 years old.</p>
No Consultation With Traditional Owners<p>The biggest concern with this act is there's no statutory requirement ensuring traditional owners be consulted.</p><p>This means traditional owners are left out of vital decisions regarding the management and protection of their cultural heritage. And it confers authority upon a committee that, in the words of a <a href="https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/getmedia/11dd5b41-fcf9-4216-a1ac-06ece672c087/AH-Review-Position-Comparison-for-Aboriginal-People" target="_blank">discussion paper</a>, "lacks cultural authority."</p>
Weak in Other Jurisdictions<p>The WA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 is <a href="https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/aha-review" target="_blank">under review</a>. The proposed reforms seek to abolish the committee, ensuring future decisions on Aboriginal cultural heritage give appropriate regard to the views of the traditional Aboriginal owners.</p><p><span></span>NSW is the only state with no stand-alone Aboriginal heritage legislation. However, a <a href="https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/researchpapers/Documents/aborigines-land-and-national-parks-in-nsw/02-97.pdf" target="_blank">similar regulatory framework</a> to WA applies in NSW under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.</p><p>There, if a developer is likely to impact cultural heritage, they must apply for an Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit. The law requires "regard" to be given to the interests of Aboriginal owners of the land, but this vague provision does not mandate consultation.</p><p>What's more, the burden of proving the significance of an Aboriginal object depends upon external statements of significance. But Aboriginal people, not others, should be responsible for determining the cultural significance of an object or area.</p><p>As in WA, the NSW regulatory framework is weak, opening up the risk for economic interests to be prioritized over damage to cultural heritage.</p>
Outdated Laws<p>The federal minister has discretion to assess whether state or territory laws are already effective.</p><p>If they decide state and territory laws are ineffective and a cultural place or object is under threat, then the federal <a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/aatsihpa1984549/" target="_blank">Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984</a> can be used.</p><p>But this act is also weak. It was first implemented as an interim measure, intended to operate for two years. It has now been in operation for 36 years.</p><p>In fact, <a href="http://ymac.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Extracts-from-Evatt-Review-of-the-Aboriginal-and-Torres-Strait-Islander-Heritage-Protection-Act-1984.pdf" target="_blank">a 1995 report</a> assessed the shortcomings of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act.</p><p>It recommended minimum standards be put in place. This included ensuring any assessment of Aboriginal cultural significance be made by a properly qualified body, with relevant experience.</p><p>It said the role of Aboriginal people should be appropriately recognized and statutorily endorsed. Whether an area or site had particular significance according to Aboriginal tradition should be regarded as a subjective issue, determined by an assessment of the degree of intensity of belief and feeling of Aboriginal people.</p><p><span></span>Twenty-five years later, this is yet to happen.</p>
By Tara Lohan
The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14 percent in April. But the drop won't last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7 percent this year.