NASA's TESS satellite expands search for exoplanets

NASA's TESS satellite expands search for exoplanets

In a major landmark for the space agency, this is the first of its missions to be launched by a SpaceX rocket.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, once launched in 2020 or so, will probe these planets' atmospheres for potential traces of life.

The TESS, or Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, telescope is set to launch on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:32 P.M. CDT today (10.32 UTC).

While you wait for launch you can also watch my interview with one of the lead scientists from the TESS team, Sara Seager of MIT, in the video below.

These mysterious worlds beyond our solar system, called exoplanets, could harbour life.

NASA Planet Hunter, new planet-chasing mission, ready to dispatch Monday, intends to propel the look for extraterrestrial life by filtering the skies for close-by, Earth-like planets. The mission's objective is to last at least two years.

Plus, SpaceX will try to land Falcon 9's first stage on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean, which is always a dramatic event to watch. Satellite maker Orbital ATK's Robert Lockwood said he expects Tess to take exoplanet discovery to a whole new level.

"But the data on all these planets is interesting, because they help us form a picture of how planetary systems form and evolve".

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The moon's position is relevant in the novel type of orbit NASA has chosen for the TESS satellite.

In 24 months, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess) should have sampled 85 percent of the heavens, taking in some 500,000 stars - many of which will be among the nearest and brightest in the sky. TESS is an Earth-orbiting instrument meant to spot faraway planets circling some 200,000 stars within 300 light-years of Earth.

"TESS is going to dramatically increase the number of planets that we have to study", said Ricker.

In addition to its search for exoplanets, TESS will allow scientists from the wider community to request targets for astrophysics research on approximately 20,000 additional objects during the mission through its Guest Investigator programme.

"But since then, 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".

Astronomers in the future, including those working with NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, are then expected to be able to study the atmospheres of numerous planets. Kepler has found more than 2,300 confirmed exoplanets over its lifetime.

"The answer we got from Kepler was that planets are everywhere and that on average, every star in the Milky Way has a planet", she said.

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