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.
Measuring the Light Intensity of Stars<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE5MTUzNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDA1NzA1OH0.TzDY5CAha95abpZxLvY0YOBthJQdjywq9N_ALavWmuo/img.jpg?width=980" id="2a4ff" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="86838a7d686624bcd566e823c74cf6fb" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>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.</p><p>"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."</p>
A Closer Look at Known Exoplanets<p>"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.</p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p>
Will CHEOPS Find Aliens?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE5MTUzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDQ5NTcxNX0.lBqib6i7kz4pC-54HrMG8aARzD5bPKnP087bT1J6CWM/img.jpg?width=980" id="7e8bd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b0cd3b54bd1a7aa0e7a8367083f40733" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>The mission will take three and a half years. But, this time, the question of all questions will not be answered.</p><p>"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."</p><p>After all, it should be possible to identify at least some planets on which extraterrestrial life is at least conceivable.</p><p>"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." </p>
Modular Research Satellite Design<p>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.</p><p>"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.</p><p>"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."</p><p>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.</p><p>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. </p>
Scrapping Already Firmly Scheduled<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE5MTU0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzc3ODI0NX0.h-bqOvXXkdhdhIo-e6KzWmlZtKwH3OKdsSZtWKIPVsE/img.jpg?width=980" id="c2d15" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0639d4915814601201f2f1469b4ec52c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>The research itself will then begin after a test period of several months. But what happens to CHEOPS when the project is finished?</p><p>"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."</p><p>The satellite will first be switched into a passive mode so that it can no longer interfere with radio signals or other satellites.</p><p>"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."</p><p>In the end, the probe will burn and disintegrate when entering the earth's atmosphere.</p>
The universe is expanding much quicker than previously thought, according to researchers in Germany, leading scientists to suggest it may be more than 2 billion years younger than past estimates.
Large Margin of Error<p>However, Jee only used two gravitational lenses for the research, which were all that were available, meaning her margin of error is so large that it's possible the universe could be older than calculated, not younger.</p><p>The limitations has some experts questioning the findings.</p><p>Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb told The Associated Press it was an interesting and unique way to work out the universe's expansion speed, but more information was necessary to add weight to the evidence.</p><p>"It is difficult to be certain of your conclusions if you use a ruler that you don't fully understand," Loeb said.</p><p>Adam Riess, who won a 2011 Nobel Prize for research on the age and expansion rate of the universe, as well as the discovery of "dark energy," told the AFP news agency that Thursday's study lacked accuracy.</p><p>"I don't think this adds much to the present state of affairs. Still, it's nice to see people look for alternative methods," he said.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Are you ready to watch the Great American Eclipse of 2017? Will you be in the path of totality? Do you have your safety glasses ready?
Well, however you decide to watch the solar eclipse today, NASA TV will be showing the "Eclipse Across America" with live video of the celestial event. The feed is already live with lots of handy information about today's unprecedented eclipse. So be sure to watch above.
The Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017: What, When, How? https://t.co/Uv2wrmMkFm @TheScienceGuy @ScienceNewsOrg— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1502409307.0
NASA's Juno spacecraft captured stunning images of Jupiter's Great Red Spot during its Monday flyby, revealing never-before-seen details of the giant planet's famous feature.
The storm is the largest and most powerful in our solar system and has been monitored since 1830.
"We have given our planet the disastrous gift of climate change ... When we we have reached similar crises there has usually been somewhere else to colonize ... But there is no new world, no utopia around the corner," he said. "We are running out of space, and the only places to go to are other worlds."
"I have already completed a zero gravity flight which allowed me to float weightless, but my ultimate ambition is to fly into space," Hawking told host Piers Morgan of "Good Morning Britain" on Monday. "I thought no one would take me but Richard Branson has offered me a seat on Virgin Galactic and I said yes immediately."
Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is one of the most intelligent individuals on the planet, which is why his assertion that humanity has only 1,000 years left on Earth and must find another place to colonize is incredibly frightening.
In a press conference last week, a senior official with the Chinese space program said the country's first space station, Tiangong-1, which means "Heavenly Palace," is expected to fall into the Earth's atmosphere in the second half of 2017.
While officials said most of the space lab will burn up upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, the location of where its remnants will land, and whether the country will have the ability to steer the space lab is unclear.
Harvard Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told The Guardian the announcement suggested China had lost control of the station and that it would re-enter the Earth's atmosphere "naturally."
"You really can't steer these things," he said. "Even a couple of days before it re-enters we probably won't know better than six or seven hours, plus or minus, when it's going to come down. Not knowing when it's going to come down translates as not knowing where it's going to come down."
McDowell added that while most of space station would burn up, the bigger parts—such as the rocket engines—wouldn't burn up completely and just the slightest change in atmospheric conditions could nudge the landing site "from one continent to the next."
"There will be lumps of about 100kg or so, still enough to give you a nasty wallop if it hit you," he said.
The 34-foot-long space station was in service for four and a half years, two and a half years longer than it was built for, and served as a stepping-stone toward a larger space complex that China wants to launch into Earth's orbit around 2020.
"Tiangong-1 has obtained a great deal of application and science data, which is valuable in mineral resources investigation, ocean and forest application, hydrologic and ecological environment monitoring, land use, urban thermal environment monitoring and emergency disaster control. Remarkable application benefits have been achieved," CMSE officials wrote in a 2014 statement.
A unique interactive website gives you a new perspective on your time on Earth.
BBC Earth's "Your life on earth" interactive takes your birthdate, gender and height to give you a personalized look at how the Earth has changed since you were born.
Factoids provided include: how many times your heart has beaten; how far you have travelled through space; the amount of sea level rise; how far the tectonic plates have moved; and the number of earthquakes and volcano eruptions experienced since your were born.
Find out what has changed during your life and compare with friends. The interactive website is available here.
Ever wondered what a year on Earth looks like from outer space? Well, thanks to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), you don't have to wonder anymore.
EPIC's photo of Earth at 10:39 on July 16 as the DSCOVR satellite was over Sudan.Photo credit: DSCOVR:EPIC
NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) onboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) snaps about one set of images—each image capturing a different set of wavelengths—of the sunlit side of Earth every two hours. More than 3,000 images shows what a year on our planet looks like. Every image captured by EPIC can be viewed on the camera's Twitter page.
EPIC views the sunrise and sunset at least 13 times a day from its place approximately 1 million miles away.
The images captured by the camera aren't just for fun. The images help scientists study changes in Earth's ozone, vegetation and clouds, Jay Herman, EPIC lead scientist, said.
"The hourly images of the entire sunlit side of Earth, provided by EPIC, will be used to study the daily variations of features over the entire globe, helping us to better understand—and protect—our home planet," Herman said.
DSCOVR was launched in February 2015 and sent back its first image of Earth in July 2015. EPIC has also captured phenomenons such as the moon "photobombing" Earth during its time in outer space. The satellite mission is a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), NASA and the U.S. Air Force.
Watch the time lapse created by EPIC's photos below: