Nasa launches planet-hunting telescope Tess - with help from Elon Musk

Apr 20, 2018, 00:33
Nasa launches planet-hunting telescope Tess - with help from Elon Musk

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) was delivered to space Wednesday, April 18, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. "Watch #TESS live", NASA announced on Twitter. SpaceX successfully landed the rocket's first stage on a drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean, marking the 24th time SpaceX has recovered one of its boosters.

Scientists expect TESS to find thousands of exoplanets of which about 500 could be Earth-sized. "The powerful cameras on the spacecraft will stare at each sector for at least 27 days, looking at the brightest stars at a two-minute cadence", said NASA in statement.

It's lift-off for a new era in planet-hunting.

NASA's exoplanet hunter, similarly like Kepler, is going to hunt planets with the potential for supporting life with the "transit method", which means scientists will spot when those planets cross the face of their parent stars. Since 2009, Kepler has been harvesting planets from the cosmos, spying the footprints of these alien worlds in distant starlight. After a long queue of over 200,000 individual stars and their accompanying planets are examined, the most favorable candidates will be targeted by telescopes around the world and in space.

"Humans have wondered forever whether we're alone in the universe, and until 25 years ago, the only planets we knew about were the eight in our solar system". It's an inevitability that scientists have been preparing for, but that doesn't make the spacecraft's end any easier.

Exoplanet Kepler-69c, as depicted by an artist. TESS will monitor thousands of stars simultaneously for such "transits", watching a single section of sky for a month straight before moving on to another. "Kepler was a statistical survey that looked at a small patch of sky for [four] years and taught us that Earths are everywhere", Elisa Quintana, an astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Center, said on a Reddit comment. NASA's director of astrophysics, Paul Hertz, said until 25 years ago the only known planets were in our solar system. TESS could find it.

The goal will be to spot a winking in the stars as proof of "transit", which is the moment when a planet passes the star, creating a dip in brightness. Moreover, TESS shouldn't have to perform too many attitude corrections in this orbit, mission team members have said. The main focus of the TESS will be the nearest and brightest stars that are present near our solar system and size of this star will be near to or more than Earth-size. Together with its northern-hemisphere counterpart in Arizona, US, the observatory will scour the skies for new worlds.

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