NASA's positive on next planet-hunting mission launch
16 April, 2018, 05:45 | Author: Darnell Taylor
Billions and billions of worlds lurk beyond our solar system.
"In two seconds you could see things that were a hundred thousand to a million times fainter than what you could see with your naked eye", said Ricker, the mission's principal investigator.
The satellite is created to seek out alien worlds circling far-off stars and reveal them to scientists on the ground. Guerrero said that the TESS team is working on the ways to share those findings publicly.
Kepler was a full-time planet-hunter, and it revolutionized astronomers' understanding of exoplanets.
TESS will spend around two years, surveying some 200000 of the brightest stars near the Sun in search of planets.
If TESS observes a periodic dimming of light from a particular star, it's reasonable to infer that the star is being orbited by at least one alien world.
Once launched, the new TESS satellite will be studied closely by NASA to keep a close eye on 200,000 stars.
"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.
They both work on the same principle, which is really quite simple: when a planet (or anything else) passes between us and a star (a "transit"), the brightness of that star temporarily dims.
The Kepler Space Telescope stared deep into a single patch of sky and looked for the shadows cast by planets as they crossed in front of their host stars.
TESS will also take wide-field photos of a large portion of the sky every 30 minutes.
"For the 30-minute images, people are excited about maybe seeing supernovae, asteroids, or counterparts to gravitational waves". TESS is packaged up and ready to go, as you see at right. 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".
TESS, by contrast, will target stars that are less than 300 light-years away - and it will look in almost all directions. In 2020, the James Webb Space Telescope will officially be launched, and this telescope will be utilized to allow scientists to search for potential life on these distant exoplanets.
TESS will send its data back down to Earth using NASA's Deep Space Network in Canberra, Madrid, and California. So we can expect a sort of biweekly drip-drip of exoplanet news for quite some time.
NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has been detecting planets via the transit method for years.
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. However, she said while there's plenty of new discoveries being made thanks to Kepler (and soon Tess), we're far from there.
"The moon and the satellite are in a sort of dance", said Joel Villasenor, an MIT researcher and instrument scientist for TESS. Christiansen said she wouldn't rule out the existence of a "water planet", driving home the notion that the possibilities are endless for this planet-hunting mission.
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