Europe's exoplanet hunter reaches orbit around Earth

HabEx the Habitable Exoplanet Observatory is a NASA project to find Earth-like planets outside the solar system

HabEx the Habitable Exoplanet Observatory is a NASA project to find Earth-like planets outside the solar system. Scott Gaudi Ohio State

The telescope will measure the density, composition and size of the exoplanets. Together, the three probes will collect data on planets that exhibit potential glimmers of habitability-ones that orbit their stars at a distance conducive to the existence of liquid water, for instance, or harbor atmospheres that resemble our own.

The mission "represents a step towards better understanding the astrophysics of all these unusual planets that we have discovered and which have no equivalent in our solar system", 2019 Nobel physics prize-winner Didier Queloz said.

Cheops - the telescope's name which stands for CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite - was launched at 3:54 a.m. ET Wednesday from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, The BBC reported.

In this photo taken on December 6, 2019 and provided by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Souyz Arianespace System for Auxiliary Payloads (ASAP-S), enclosing CHEOPS and supporting the three Cubesats, is lifted from its stand, inside the High Bay of the Spaceport payload facility.

During final countdown operations, the Soyuz launcher's automated sequence was interrupted at 1 hour 25 minutes before liftoff, Arianespace, the satellite company operating the launch, said in a statement. Nuanced information about other planets are more likely to come from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), due to launch in 2021.

"We now know there could be more planets than stars", Paul Hertz, NASA's astrophysics division director, said in a news release.

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The space telescope is said to focus on studying known Earth-size to Neptune-size exoplanets orbiting distant stars.

The satellite -whose mission is to examine stars already known to be host to hopefully habitable exoplanets, focusing on stars with exoplanets that range between Earth's mass and Neptune's -will circle Earth just along the terminator, the division between day and night down below, with its camera permanently pointed away from the sun, toward the dark.

Nobel victor Queloz said CHEOPS was unlikely to solve the holy grail of astrophysics - is there life on other planets? They should be rocky as our planet, Mars, or Venus, in order to be able to sustain life.

"It's as if we're taking the first step on a big staircase".

The new planets were identified during Kepler's four-year primary mission, which ended in 2013, and previously had been considered planet-candidates.

According to ESA, this should happen within several months of the satellite's launch.

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