NASA’s spacecraft built to scan over 200,000 bright stars and the planets around them is going to be launched today at 6:32 PM – 2232 GMT at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The spacecraft has a size of a washing machine, it cost 337 million USD and will be on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
NASA stated that they’re going to have TESS discover over 20,000 exoplanets, out of which 55 of them are the size of the Earth, and almost 500 twice that size.
TESS scientist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, Elisa Quintana, stated in an interview on Sunday that the spacecraft will be “orbiting the nearest, brightest stars” and that “we might even find planets that orbit stars that we can even see with the naked eye. So in the next few years we might even be able to walk outside and point at a star and know that it has a planet. This is the future.”
The astrophysics division director at NASA, Paul Hertz, said that years ago this notion was unthinkable:
“Humans have wondered forever whether we were alone in the universe, and until 25 years ago the only planets we knew about were the eight in our own solar system.”
But they’ve had many breakthroughs and now he said that “we have found thousands of planets orbiting others stars and we think all the stars in our galaxy must have their own family of planets.”
Continuing Kepler’s Discoveries
TESS is now going to take to the sky, as the US Kepler spacecraft, the first of its kind, launched in 2009, is running low on fuel and will soon be ending its purpose. During its time up in the sky, Kepler found many exoplanets just by looking toward a patch of sky. It confirmed the existence of 2,300 exoplanets and saw many distant and dim planets too.
But TESS is ready to show the world it can do better, as it has four cameras that can scan a larger area – 350 times bigger than Kepler. In its first two years, TESS will be able to gather images from 85% of the sky!
Jenn Burt, a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said that:
“On average the stars that TESS observes are 30-100 times brighter and 10 times closer than the stars that Kepler focused on.”