NASA launched TESS, new planet-hunter to search Earth-like worlds

Pablo Tucker
April 16, 2018

Its predecessor spacecraft, Kepler, surveyed 150,000 stars in a patch of sky near the constellation Cygnus, and found over a thousand planets ranging from gaseous giants like Jupiter to rocky planets as small as Mercury.

NASA's new planet hunting telescope promises to change that.

That tool comes in the form of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short. ASTERIA is a collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge; where Sara Seager is the principal investigator.

Its main goal over the next two years is to scan more than 200,000 of the brightest stars for signs of planets circling them and causing a dip in brightness known as a transit.

Four wide-field cameras will give TESS a field-of-view that covers 85 percent of our entire sky. However, human sperm is a lot more complex and inherently varied in motion and appearance says NASA.

However, don't expect us to find another Earth overnight.

The mission is particularly interested in finding planets orbiting red dwarf stars. But most of the time, we can't see them.

In total, TESS researchers hope that the refrigerator-sized satellite will be able to detect about 50 planets that might be similar in size to our Earth. And it's going to build upon the legacy of the Kepler mission, only it's going to focus on nearby bright stars that are sprinkled across the whole sky and it's going to help us answer a really important question, and that is: "which of our near-stellar neighbors has planets?", explained Elisa Quintana, NASA Astrophysicist.

These stars are smaller and cooler than our Sun, so it may be easier to spot habitable planets, said astronomer Tim Bedding of the University of Sydney. "But a few weeks to a month around a red dwarf could still be quite pleasant in terms of temperature, if you like the Goldilocks zone", Professor Bedding said. The Keppler Telescope did the legwork for TESS by surveying the Milky Way Galaxy to determine how many Earthlike planets may be near us, according to NASA's website. This will have a big impact on future studies. Mission managers estimate there will be on the order of tens of thousands of new planets discovered.

Australian telescopes will play role in discoveriesUK Schmidt Telescope.

"Studying reproductive biology in space is useful because the unique environment of microgravity can reveal processes and connections not visible in gravity on Earth", said NASA in a release. The first year of observations will map the 13 sectors encompassing the southern sky, and the second year will map the 13 sectors of the northern sky.

One of the Australian projects that will follow up TESS's discoveries is called Funnelweb.

Yet planets can, from our viewpoint, appear to travel or "transit" across the face of their star as they orbit, blocking a small fraction of the star's light.

The launch of Monday marks the first time that NASA has used the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for a science mission.

Once blasted into space, it will eventually sit in a special orbit (red) that goes out to 250,000 kilometres then sweeps back to within 100,000 kilometres of Earth.

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