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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 Shawna Foo
Anyone who's tending a garden right now knows what extreme heat can do to plants. Heat is also a concern for an important form of underwater gardening: growing corals and "outplanting," or transplanting them to restore damaged reefs.
Coral Gardening<p>Coral reefs <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/marine-life/coral-reef-ecosystems" target="_blank">support over 25% of marine life</a> by providing food, shelter and a place for fish and other organisms to reproduce and raise young. Today, <a href="https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-ocean-heat-content" target="_blank">ocean warming driven by climate change</a> is stressing reefs worldwide.</p><p>Rising ocean temperatures cause <a href="https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coralreef-climate.html#:%7E:text=Climate%20change%20leads%20to%3A,to%20the%20smothering%20of%20coral." target="_blank">bleaching events</a> – episodes in which corals expel the algae that live inside them and provide the corals with most of their food, as well as their vibrant colors. When corals lose their algae, they become less resistant to stressors such as disease and eventually may die.</p><p>Hundreds of organizations worldwide are working to restore damaged coral reefs by growing thousands of small coral fragments in nurseries, which may be onshore in laboratories or in the ocean near degraded reefs. Then scuba divers physically plant them at restoration sites.</p>
Sea surface temperatures on Aug. 3, 2020, measured from satellites. Warning = possible bleaching; Alert Level 1 = significant bleaching likely; Alert Level 2 = severe bleaching and significant mortality likely. NOAA Coral Reef Watch
Warmer Oceans<p>Climate scientists project that the oceans will <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/03/ar5_wgII_spm_en-1.pdf" target="_blank">warm up to 3˚C</a> by the year 2100. Scientists are working to create coral outplants that can <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1721415116" target="_blank">better survive increases in temperature</a>, which could help to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.1978" target="_blank">increase restoration success</a> in the future.</p><p>When coral restoration experts choose where to outplant, they typically consider what's on the seafloor, algae that could smother coral, predators that eat coral and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.1792" target="_blank">presence of fish</a>. Our study shows that using temperature data and other information collected remotely from airplanes and satellites could help to <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2019.00079" target="_blank">optimize this process</a>. Remote sensing, which scientists have used to study coral reefs for almost 40 years, can provide information on much larger scales than water surveys.</p><p>Coral reefs face an uncertain future and may not recover naturally from human-caused climate change. Conserving them will require reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting key habitats and actively restoring reefs. I hope that our research on temperature will help increase coral outplant survival and restoration success.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/shawna-foo-1136932" target="_blank">Shawna Foo</a> is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Arizona State University. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Shawna Foo receives funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/ocean-warming-threatens-coral-reefs-and-soon-could-make-it-harder-to-restore-them-142876" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>.</em><em></em></p>
By David Korten
Our present course puts humans on track to be among the species that expire in Earth's ongoing sixth mass extinction. In my conversations with thoughtful people, I am finding increasing acceptance of this horrific premise.
By Alejandro Argumedo
August 9 is the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples – a celebration of the uniqueness of the traditions of Quechua, Huli, Zapotec, and thousands of other cultures, but also of the universality of potatoes, bananas, beans, and the rest of the foods that nourish the world. These crops did not arise out of thin air. They were domesticated over thousands of years, and continue to be nurtured, by Indigenous people. On this day we give thanks to these cultures for the diversity of our food.
- 28 Organizations Promoting Indigenous Food Sovereignty - EcoWatch ›
- 10 Indigenous Foods You Should Be Eating - EcoWatch ›
By John R. Platt
Here at The Revelator, we love a good shark story.
The problem is, there aren't all that many good shark stories. According to recent research, sharks and their relatives represent one of the world's most imperiled groups of species. Of the more than 1,250 known species of sharks, skates, rays and chimeras — collectively known as chondrichthyan fishes — at least a quarter are threatened with extinction.
Speaking of Shark Week:<p><a href="https://therevelator.org/film-fakery-shark-week-conservation/" target="_blank">Film Fakery: Does Shark Week Harm Conservation Efforts?</a></p>
Big Questions:<p><a href="https://therevelator.org/shark-conservation-success/" target="_blank">Are We Ready for Shark Conservation to Succeed?</a></p>
Sharks and Fisheries:<p><a href="https://therevelator.org/protect-sharks-overfishing/" target="_blank">How to Protect Sharks From Overfishing</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/florida-anglers-endangered-sharks/" target="_blank">Florida Anglers Are Targeting Endangered Sharks</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/recreational-fishing-environmental-impact/" target="_blank">Fishing for Fun? It Has a Bigger Environmental Impact Than We Thought</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/fins-protected-sharks-traded/" target="_blank">Fins from Protected Shark Species Still Heavily Traded</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/essential-unprotected-fish-habitats/" target="_blank">'Essential' But Unprotected: How the United States Fails Its Most Important Fish Habitats</a></p>
Sharks and the Extinction Crisis:<p><a href="https://therevelator.org/lost-shark/" target="_blank">Found But Lost: Newly Discovered Shark May Be Extinct</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/rhino-rays-cites/" target="_blank">A Chance to Save the 'Rhinos of the Sea'</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/one-million-extinctions/" target="_blank">What Losing 1 Million Species Means for the Planet — and Humanity</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/extinction-crisis-keep-feeling-overwhelmed/" target="_blank">The Extinction Crisis is Here. How do We Keep from Feeling Overwhelmed?</a></p>
Broader Ocean and Conservation Issues:<p><a href="https://therevelator.org/ocean-biodiversity-mpa/" target="_blank">The Top 10 Ocean Biodiversity Hotspots to Protect</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/protect-species-environmental-dna/" target="_blank">How Do You Protect a Species You Can't See?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/global-ocean-treaty/" target="_blank">Here's Our Best Opportunity to Save the Oceans — and Ourselves</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/coral-reef-replanting/" target="_blank">Coral in Crisis: Can Replanting Efforts Halt Reefs' Death Spiral?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/oceans-challenges/" target="_blank">What Are the Biggest Challenges for Saving the Oceans?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/empowering-communities-save-ocean/" target="_blank">Empowering Communities to Save the Ocean</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/toxic-plastic-pollution-food-chain/" target="_blank">Something Fishy: Toxic Plastic Pollution Is Traveling Up the Food Chain</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/trump-offshore-oil-wildlife/" target="_blank">Trump's Offshore Oil Plan: Like Nothing the Country Has Ever Seen</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/author/john/" target="_blank">John R. Platt</a> <em>is the editor of <em>The Revelator</em>. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in <em>Scientific American</em>, <em>Audubon</em>, <em>Motherboard</em>, and numerous other magazines and publications. His "Extinction Countdown" column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://therevelator.org/sharks-imperiled/" target="_blank">The Revelator</a>.</em></p>
By Isabella Garcia
On Thanksgiving Day 2019, right after Caroline Laur had finished giving thanks for her home, a neighbor at church told her that a company had submitted permit requests to build an asphalt plant in their community. The plans indicated the plant would be 250 feet from Laur's backdoor.