NASA's positive on next planet-hunting mission launch

NASA's positive on next planet-hunting mission launch

Over the past several years Kepler Space Telescope of NASA has accelerated the pace of discovery, making it transparent the galaxy is awash with planets.

Once launched, the new TESS satellite will be studied closely by NASA to keep a close eye on 200,000 stars. Much like NASA's Kepler space observatory, TESS will use its high-spec tech to pinpoint undiscovered planets.

TESS's predecessor, the Keppler Space Telescope, is a planet-hunting space telescope that was launched by NASA in 2009.

It'll take TESS about two years to survey around 85 percent of the sky, looking out at a field that includes more than 20 million stars, according to MIT. The more light, the more data, and often the less noise - researchers will be able to tell more about stars that are observed, and if necessary dedicate other ground or space resources towards observing them. 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.

"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".

Although about to start a new campaign, it is gradually running out of fuel and drifting further away from Earth.

NASA's Kepler spacecraft used the same method to spot more than 2,600 confirmed exoplanets, majority orbiting faint stars 300 to 3,000 light-years away. Together, the cameras will stare at a vertical strip of the celestial sphere stretching from the pole to the equator, proceeding to a new strip every 27 days.

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.

These planets will be some of our closest neighbours, orbiting stars we can actually see when we look up at the sky.

It's called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS for short. "TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds".

"TESS is the natural next step, by searching for planets near our very nearby bright stars so that we can do the follow up measurements partly that Paul was talking about and by doing those measurements we hope to actually identify all the world's we've been dreaming about", said Sara Seager, TESS Deputy Director of Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The first year of observations will map the 13 sectors encompassing the southern sky, and the second year will map the 13 sectors of the northern sky.

That's because Ricker's team designed a new kind of orbit - a highly elliptical 13.7-day trip that allows the spacecraft to avoid damage from Earth's Van Allen radiation belts while also bringing it close enough to regularly send back loads of image data.

"TESS is going to essentially provide the catalog, like the phone book, if you will, of all the best planets for following up, for looking at their atmospheres and studying more about them."