NASA’s “exoplanets hunter” is up and running

NASA’s “exoplanets hunter” is up and running

TESS space telescope that shall find thousands of planets in other star systems is launched.

NASA has successfully launched TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) space telescope, whose main goal is the search for exoplanets.

The launch of Falcon 9 that carrieв TESS, took place on April 18 at 6:51 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, which corresponds to 1:51 a.m. Kyiv city time, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. NASA reported that solar panel that shall power the satellite has successfully opened in about an hour, and the first stage of the rocket has landed on a platform in the Atlantic Ocean.

NASA’s “exoplanets hunter” is up and running

TESS space telescope launch using Falcon 9, Photo: NASA

The main task of TESS is the search for the planets orbiting around other stars. TESS will survey the entire sky over the course of two years by breaking it up into 26 different sectors, each 24 degrees by 96 degrees across, and will stare at each sector for at least 27 days. The total duration of study – two years.

The search for exoplanets will be performed using so-called transit method. This method looks for dips in the visible light of stars, and requires that planets cross in front of stars along our line of sight to them. Repetitive, periodic dips can reveal a planet or planets orbiting a star. Looking at how long it takes a planet to orbit its star, scientists are able to determine the shape of the planet’s orbit and how long it takes the planet to circle its sun.

NASA hopes that TESS will find thousands of prospective exoplanets, roughly 300 of which may be as big as the Earth. TESS will find the most promising exoplanets orbiting our nearest and brightest stars, giving future researchers a rich set of new targets for more comprehensive follow-up studies.

Before that, Kepler telescope was dealing with the search for exoplanets. It has found more than 2,600 planets. Most of them are orbiting around stars located 300-3000 light-years from the Earth. TESS, in turn, will be focused on stars located between 30 and 300 light-years. Moreover, the stars TESS will study are 30 to 100 times brighter than those the Kepler mission and K2 follow-up surveyed, which will enable far easier follow-up observations with both ground-based and space-based telescopes. This will give us a closer look at the situation suggested that there may be life or conditions to support life on the planet.

TESS mission will also include Guest Investigator program, i.e. astrophysics from various institutions may apply for the exploration of some objects.

In the next few weeks, satellite will several maneuvers to reach the Moon, and by using its gravity it will enter 13.7-day final science orbit around the Earth. As soon as TESS tools are tested, it will proceed with its exploratory tasks.