NASA Ups Its Planet-Hunting Game with the Launch of TESS


Over the past several years Kepler Space Telescope of NASA has accelerated the pace of discovery, making it transparent the galaxy is awash with planets.

TESS's mission is to monitor and catalogue over 200,000 stars in space for signs of other existing planets.

NASA is hiring new flight directors who will work in mission control at Johnson Space Center. Much like NASA's Kepler space observatory, TESS will use its high-spec tech to pinpoint undiscovered planets.

Ground-based telescopes and even the James Webb Space Telescope - expected to launch in 2020 - might be able to detect the atmospheres of exoplanets found by TESS when they do additional observations of those worlds.

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Hubble and Spitzer have spent part of their missions searching for exoplanets, which are planets that orbit stars other than the sun.

Four wide-field cameras will give TESS a field-of-view that covers 85 percent of our entire sky.

"We expect TESS will discover a number of planets whose atmospheric compositions, which hold potential clues to the presence of life, could be precisely measured by future observers". It really has a chance to find a rocky planet that's the right distance from its star, the right temperature to have life on its surface. But Kepler is crippled and is running out of fuel. The deputy manager of the TESS Objects of Interest project, Natalia Guerrero said that a lot of the stars that Kepler found exoplanets around were extremely faint and really far away that made them really hard to follow up on from the ground, hence, TESS came about to be even more useful to the broader astronomical community. It would sail around the Earth every 13.7 days, in an elliptical orbit.

TESS will wait for the regular drops in brightness caused by a planet crossing in front of its stellar host and blocking a tiny amount of starlight.

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"We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars".

While looking for the exoplanets, TESS would also witness other unrelated phenomena, such as possible supernovae or the other fast-changing objects.

It will also be in an orbit that comes to within 100,000km of Earth (Kepler was about 10 million kilometres away) so it will be able to download a lot of data very quickly. But since the 13 observation strips in each hemisphere overlap at the poles, TESS will have eyes on both the northern and southern polar skies for almost a year at a time.

This stable 13.7 day "lunar resonant" orbit, which has never been tried before, should allow TESS to operate for well beyond two years, said Professor Ricker.

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This unique orbit maximizes the sky that TESS can see, minimizes the effect of the moon's pull, and regularly brings it close enough to send data home for a short period. "The TESS planets are going to be the ones you're going to look at".