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Artist's illustration of Cheops. Image: ESA/ATG medialab

A European telescope designed to help characterize planets orbiting stars far from the Sun launched to space Wednesday.

Why it matters: Astronomers are on the hunt for another world like our Earth, and this new mission — called CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite (Cheops) — could help them figure out if there are habitable worlds somewhere out there.

Details: After it begins science observations, Cheops will perform follow-up observations on hundreds of planets outside our solar system — known as exoplanets — that were discovered by other missions.

  • The space telescope will watch as these worlds pass in front of their stars, blocking out a small amount of light and allowing Cheops to get a sense of their sizes, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).
  • Using this data along with other information already gathered about these worlds will allow scientists to paint a more complete portrait of the exoplanets and figure out if some might be like Earth.
  • According to ESA, it's even possible that Cheops might be able to study the atmospheres of some of these exoplanets as well.
“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."
— Kate Isaak, ESA Cheops project scientist, said in a statement

The big picture: So far, researchers have found more than 4,000 exoplanets total.

  • Scientists still don't have the tools to be able to definitively say whether a planet is or is not habitable like Earth, but spacecraft like Cheops will help make that hunt for another Earth a bit easier in the long run.

Go deeper: The most distant world ever observed from close range has an official name

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - World

Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.