NASA's New Planet Hunter TESS Set To Launch Monday

SpaceX Rocket Is Ready to Launch NASA's Planet Hunting Telescope

SpaceX Rocket Is Ready to Launch NASA's Planet Hunting Telescope

The goal: To find planets that are smaller than Neptune, with a radius less than about four times that of Earth.

Like Kepler, TESS will find exoplanets by looking for what astronomers call transits, in which planets' orbits take them in front of their host stars and temporarily block a portion of the starlight. Separating those weak signals from the rest of the star's light will be exceedingly hard for small, rocky planets with compact atmospheres. As Rinehart puts it: "The cool thing about TESS is that one of these days I'll be able to go out in the country with my daughter and point to a star and say 'there's a planet around that one'".

"It's changed our view of planets, it's changed our view of our solar system and how common exoplanets are out there", Brad Tucker of the Australian National University said. The spacecraft will scan nearly all of the sky for neighboring stars, searching for the dips in their brightness that signal the presence of a planet.

Presently, more than a decade since the MIT scientists initially proposed the mission, TESS is about to get off the ground. "TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds".

"For the 30-minute images, people are excited about maybe seeing supernovae, asteroids, or counterparts to gravitational waves". "We're going to be able study individual planets and start talking about the differences between planets".

The satellite will keep an eye out for potentially habitable worlds circling stars that are somewhat smaller and dimmer than our own sun. 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.

"If we can [study stars] from all directions in our galaxy we can understand how our galaxy formed and all the different parts formed in different order and how they came together", Professor Bedding explained. "So it's got to be there somewhere". But when you think about the sheer number of stars in the sky - and by the way, planets outnumber them - it's not so insane.

TESS, by contrast, will target stars that are less than 300 light-years away - and it will look in almost all directions.

The TESS satellite will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and will hunt for new exoplanets to determine if they could harbor life.

Artist's illustration of TESS in space.

Staring at bigger patches of the sky will also make it easier to see when stars blow up, says ANU's Dr Tucker, who studies supernovas found by Kepler.

Because TESS surveys the whole sky it will provide data on many more stars than Kepler did.

NASA Astrophysics director Paul Hertz has said TESS will up the ante for planet research once it reaches orbit.

"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".

"Please be patient with us".

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