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Europe Launches Cheops Satellite to Scour Space for Habitable Planets

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The European Space Agency is continuing the search for new Earths this week with the launch of Cheops, a new telescope whose name stands for CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite.

The spacecraft launched on a Soyuz-Fregat rocket from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 3:54 a.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, Dec. 18. It was the second try after Tuesday’s first launch attempt was delayed. The satellite will be lofted toward an unusual pole-to-pole orbit about 500 miles above Earth. The Hubble Space Telescope, by comparison, orbits about 350 miles above the surface, moving from west to east.

In a clever bit of celestial engineering, Cheops 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.

Thousands of exoplanets have been discovered in the last three decades by ground-based astronomers like Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, of the University of Geneva, who were awarded the Nobel Prize this year, and by planet-hunting satellites like NASA’s Kepler and TESS, as well as E.S.A.’s Corot. Dr. Queloz will be in attendance at the launch.

Rather than look for more planets, Cheops will study some that have already been discovered in order to understand them better.

Many of the exoplanets already spotted by astronomers were discovered by observing the gravitational tug — or “wobble” — that they exert on their home stars as they go around. This method allows astronomers to calculate the masses of the planets, but nothing else about their nature or composition.

Cheops will make precise measurements of the sizes of these planets by observing small dips in the brightness of their home stars as the planets pass in front of them — the so-called blink method. Along with the wobble, this data will allow astronomers to calculate the densities of these planets and determine whether they are rocky, like Earth, or fluffy, like gas clouds.

The goal is to find habitable planets. That means Cheops will focus on stars with exoplanets that range between Earth’s mass and Neptune’s.

Not all of those systems will be aligned so that the planets actually cross in front of their stars and produce a transit blip. But at least a dozen should meet this criterion, yielding information on the dividing line between so-called super-Earths — rocky planets that are much larger than ours — and worlds with large envelopes of gas, referred to as mini-Neptunes.

A new program looking for exoplanet transits with telescopes on Earth should also provide additional targets that will use Cheops to make precise follow-up observations.

The first known exoplanets were in fact discovered from Earth by the team of Dr. Mayor and Dr. Queloz, using the wobble method. And while spacecraft like Kepler and TESS make giant contributions to the search for distant worlds, ground-based observations continue to play an important role in following up on old discoveries and making new ones. That work goes on, providing more fodder for Cheops and its successors.

In Chile, special spectroscopes named HARPS and ESPRESSO were built to detect stellar wobbles around distant stars. And the Automated Planet Finder at the Lick Observatory in California performs similar work.

At the same time, the stellar blink method is used by ground-based telescopes such as the Next Generation Transit Survey, at Paranal Observatory in Chile.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, designed to record infrared radiation from the universe’s earliest days and heat from exoplanets, is on track after many mishaps, the space agency says, for a launch on March 30, 2021.

Another mission, the Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST), designed to investigate dark energy and prospect for distant exoplanets, continues to survive the political vicissitudes of NASA’s budget process. It would launch in the mid-2020s.

The European Space Agency’s Euclid, which has the same mission as NASA’s WFIRST, is scheduled to be launched in 2022.



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Twitter Bots Poised to Unfold Disinformation Earlier than Election

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Remember: Faux Twitter accounts will very most probably sow disinformation within the few closing days earlier than Election Day on Nov. 3.

This week, researchers on the College of Southern California launched a new find out about that known 1000’s of automatic accounts, or “bots,” on Twitter posting data associated with President Trump, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and their campaigns. The find out about tested over 240 million election-related tweets from June thru September.

Many of those bots, the find out about stated, unfold falsehoods associated with the coronavirus and far-right conspiracy theories such QAnon and “pizzagate.” The find out about stated that bots accounted for 20 % of all tweets involving those political conspiracy theories.

“Those bots are an integral a part of the dialogue” on social media, stated Emilio Ferrara, the College of Southern California professor who led the find out about.

A Twitter spokesman puzzled the find out about’s strategies. “Analysis that makes use of most effective publicly to be had knowledge is deeply mistaken by way of design and incessantly makes egregiously reductive claims in accordance with those restricted indicators,” the spokesman stated. “We proceed to confront a converting danger panorama.”

Social media corporations similar to Twitter and Fb have lengthy labored to take away this sort of process, which has been utilized by teams looking to foment discord in previous elections in the US and in another country. And the College of Southern California find out about confirmed that about two-thirds of the conspiracy-spreading bots it known had been not energetic by way of the center of September.

In some instances, bots show off suspicious conduct. They may “practice” an surprisingly huge collection of different accounts — a host just about as huge because the collection of accounts following them — or their usernames will come with random digits.

However figuring out bots with the bare eye is a ways from an actual science. And researchers say that automatic accounts have grown extra subtle in contemporary months. Usually, they are saying, bots are pushed by way of a mixture of automatic tool and human operators, who paintings to orchestrate and range the conduct of the faux accounts to steer clear of detection.

Some bots display indicators of automation — like most effective retweeting relatively than tweeting new subject matter, or posting very incessantly — however it may be tough to definitively end up that accounts are inauthentic, researchers say. An automatic account might forestall tweeting at night time, for instance, as though there’s a particular person at the back of it who’s slumbering.

“You’ll be able to obviously see they’re automatic,” stated Pik-Mai Hui, an Indiana College researcher who has helped construct a new set of equipment that purpose to trace those bots in actual time. “However they’re operated in some way that makes it very tough to mention with whole walk in the park.”

Those bots are working on either side of the political spectrum, in line with the find out about from the College of Southern California. However right-leaning bots outnumbered their left-leaning opposite numbers by way of a ratio of 4-to-1 within the find out about, and the right-leaning bots had been greater than 12 instances much more likely to unfold false conspiracy theories.

The find out about signifies that 13 % of all accounts tweeting about conspiracy theories are automatic, and since they tweet at the next fee, they’re sending a far greater share of the full subject matter.

“That is essentially the most regarding section,” Dr. Ferrara stated. “They’re expanding the impact of the echo chamber.”



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Instagram Tries Clamping Down on Incorrect information

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Instagram on Thursday took goal on the unfold of incorrect information on its platform, pronouncing that it might briefly get rid of customers’ talent to view some contemporary posts forward of Election Day.

In two tweets, Instagram stated it might take away the “contemporary” tab from hashtag pages. Prior to now, customers may just view the latest posts tagged with a selected hashtag. Now, handiest “most sensible” posts below a selected hashtag which have been reviewed through the platform might be viewable.

Instagram, which is owned through Fb, stated the trade was once made to “scale back the real-time unfold of doubtless damaging content material that might pop up across the election.”

The trade took impact Thursday night time and the “contemporary” tab will go back someday after the election, an Instagram spokeswoman stated. The platform stated it hopes the trade will permit it to proactively prevent incorrect information from spreading, quite than having to attend till a falsehood has already been extensively shared.

Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation analyst on the Wilson Heart, a nonpartisan assume thank, stated Instagram’s resolution, simply days prior to the election, was once “quite past due” however “higher than not anything.”

“I’m hoping one day the social media platforms acknowledge that elections are an inflection level in disinformation campaigns, no longer an finish level,” she stated. “A choice like this previous within the cycle may have lessened the unfold of balloting incorrect information, as an example.”

Ms. Jankowicz stated a lot of the incorrect information spreading on Instagram was once associated with QAnon, the baseless pro-Trump conspiracy principle, and false details about Senator Kamala Harris of California, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee.

Instagram’s resolution follows crackdowns on viral falsehoods through Fb and Twitter. Twitter not too long ago added context to trending subjects and de-emphasized retweets forward of the election, whilst Fb stated it might ban political advertisements indefinitely. Each firms have added some labels to deceptive posts and highlighted correct balloting knowledge after emerging alarm about the potential of a disputed election consequence and the chaos that might observe.





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What Went Viral This Week

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Right here at Day-to-day Distortions, we attempt to debunk false and deceptive data that has long past viral. We additionally need to provide you with a way of the way well-liked that incorrect information is, within the total context of what’s being mentioned on social media. Each and every Friday, we supply an inventory of the 10 most-engaged tales of the week in the USA, as ranked by means of NewsWhip, a company that compiles social media efficiency information. (NewsWhip tracks the collection of reactions, stocks and feedback each and every tale receives on Fb, along side stocks on Pinterest and by means of a gaggle of influential customers on Twitter.) This week’s information runs from 9:01 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 23, till Nine a.m. on Friday, Oct. 30.

On TV and in newspapers, wall-to-wall protection of subsequent week’s election could also be dominating. However on social media this week, tales a couple of Dallas house’s too-realistic Halloween decorations and a brand new tune video by means of the pop singer Harry Types broke up the political monolith.

Take, as an example, the 3rd merchandise in this week’s listing: a Fox Information article about U.S. marshals in Ohio rescuing 45 lacking kids all through an effort known as “Operation Autumn Hope” that won greater than one million interactions.

On its face, a lacking kids tale isn’t the type of factor that will garner massive site visitors. However this 12 months, tales about lacking kids were boosted by means of believers in QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy concept that falsely alleges {that a} cabal of satanic pedophiles run by means of distinguished Democrats is kidnapping and torturing kids. For months, QAnon believers have followed #SaveOurChildren as a covert rallying cry, and distorted official claims of kid intercourse trafficking by means of attributing them to nefarious elites.

That’s what took place to Fox Information’s tale about Operation Autumn Hope, which used to be shared by means of dozens of QAnon and QAnon-adjacent pages on Fb, portraying the operation as a part of a bigger Trump-backed effort to take down the worldwide pedophile ring.

This type of distortion occurs each day on the web. And it’s our hope that by means of digging underneath the outside of the tales that pop up on their feeds and timelines, readers can transform extra discerning, and uncover that the true tale is continuously buried underneath the headline.

This is the remainder of this week’s most sensible 10 listing:



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