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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

NASA estimates Tonga volcano exploded with force of 5-6 megatons

A satellite image of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Dec. 24, before the eruption. Photo: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies

NASA scientists estimate the power of Tonga's volcanic eruption over the weekend to have been 5-6 Megatons of TNT equivalent.

Threat level: Saturday's eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Haʻapai volcano and subsequent tsunami killed at least three people. Scientists warn an "ash-seawater cocktail" poses a potentially toxic health threat, and drinking water could be contaminated.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

New York AG alleges "significant evidence" of Trump Organization fraud

Combination images of former President Trump and New York State Attorney General Letitia James. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Scott Heins/Getty Images

New York's attorney general filed a motion Tuesday seeking to compel former President Trump and his two elder children to appear for sworn testimony in her office's civil investigation into the Trump Organization's financial dealings.

Why it matters: Attorney General Letitia James revealed new details in the court filing and a statement on her office's investigation into the Trump Organization's business practices, including a preliminary finding alleging the company used "fraudulent and misleading asset valuations to obtain economic benefits."

6 hours ago - Technology

Ex-N.Y. Post digital chief files lawsuit alleging sexual harassment

Richard B. Levine) (Photo by Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images

Former New York Post editor Michelle Gotthelf is suing her former employer, its parent company News Corp. and two editors, alleging she was reprimanded after complaining to senior executives that she was sexually harassed by retired N.Y. Post editor-in-chief Col Allan. The N.Y. Post issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.

Why it matters: "I felt that I owed it to myself and I owed it to the news organization and the people who answered to me," Gotthelf, who was a long time editor at the N.Y. Post, told Axios in an interview.