NASA Continues The Hunt For New Planets With Its TESS Mission


The Transition Exoplanet Survey Sattelite aka TESS will be used by NASA to discover new planets. TESS is set for launch Monday afternoon on April 16.

The spacecraft will scan the sky for any nearby stars, searching for dips in their brightness because this is the precise signal of a planet’s presence.

TESS will take the torch from the Kepler Space Telescope

TESS’ target is to find planets which are smaller than Neptune and that have a radius less than about four times the one Earth has. Experts will user other telescopes for measuring the masses of 50 of them.

The spacecraft may find small worlds with rocky bodies similar to the one of our planet and a few of them might even be habitable locations.

MIT astrophysicist George Ricker says that the journey will be really exciting. “We’re getting a chance to potentially answer a question that humanity’s always been interested in: What’s in the sky? And are there other beings, other places like Earth?”

NASA developed space-based telescopes for finding out the answer to these questions for quite a while now, and Spitzer and Hubble have spent some parts of their missions looking for exoplanets. These are planets that orbit other stars than the Sun.

Kepler was the one that managed to revolutionize astronomers’ understanding of exoplanets. The telescope was launched back in 2009, and it was interested in finding planets with similar size to earth, orbiting stars like our Sun at a distance where water on their surface could have a stable liquid form making the location habitable.

TESS will take the torch from the Kepler Space Telescope and continue its work. It will target stars that are less than 300 light-years away, and it will check all of the directions.

Getting ready to send explorers on new planets

“Kepler took a poll of stars in the galaxy to find out what planets they harbor,” stated Natalie Batalha, Kepler’s project scientist at NASA Ames Research Center. “TESS is getting to know the neighbors.”

TESS has four cameras, and each of them is focused on a different part of the sky. They will stare at a vertical strip of the sky stretching from the pole to the equator. It will proceed to a new strip every 27 days.

Humans have not yet developed technology to reach the nearest stars at least, but Ricker is confident that this will change in the coming generations. And if it does, our planet will already know where exactly to send robot explorers.


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