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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

Ben Geman, author of Generate
2 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Key clean power provision likely won't survive in Dems' spending bill

A construction worker walks along a dirt road at the Avangrid Renewables La Joya wind farm in Encino, New Mexico, on Aug. 5, 2020. Photo: Cate Dingley/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A pillar of Democrats' plans to speed deployment of zero-carbon electricity is likely to be cut from major spending and tax legislation they are struggling to move on a party-line vote, per multiple reports and a Capitol Hill aide.

Driving the news: The New York Times, citing anonymous congressional aides and lobbyists, reports that West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) has told the White House he "strongly opposes" the Clean Electricity Performance Program.

Updated 4 hours ago - World

Fatal stabbing of British MP David Amess declared a terrorist incident

Police outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, England, on Oct. 15. Photo: John Keeble/Getty Images

Authorities have declared the death of David Amess a terrorist incident, hours after the Conservative Party lawmaker in the U.K. was fatally stabbed while meeting with local constituents in a church in eastern England on Friday.

The big picture: The Metropolitan Police has found "a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism."

Biden: DOJ should prosecute those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas

President Biden speaks with reporters at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that the Justice Department should prosecute those who defy subpoenas from the Jan. 6 select committee.

Why it matters: The president's remarks come one day after Donald Trump ally Steve Bannon failed to show up for a deposition before the committee.