Space hunter: Scientists pin alien exoplanet hopes to NASA's latest sky scanner

Olive Hawkins
April 16, 2018

As MIT professor, Sara Seager, explained that NASA's new satellite will be the ideal tool for discovering which new exoplanets we should be studying next.

Because TESS surveys the whole sky it will provide data on many more stars than Kepler did. "TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds".

The satellite's cameras will look at one part of the sky and take photos of it, searching for planets transiting their stars.

It may seem like looking for a needle in a haystack, watching the sky hoping a planet will pass by at just the right moment. The eye on the sky has found 2,600 confirmed alien worlds.

TESS will watch for the same thing with a much, much broader perspective. The satellite will spend full 13.7-day orbits observing a segment, then move on to the next one. But since the 13 observation strips in each hemisphere overlap at the poles, TESS will have eyes on both the northern and southern polar skies for almost a year at a time.

During one of its early orbits (green) it will be flung by gravity from the Moon (yellow) into a final position that ensures it continuously views the sky, and its solar panels always get light. The deputy manager of the TESS Objects of Interest project, Natalia Guerrero said that a lot of the stars that Kepler found exoplanets around were extremely faint and really far away that made them really hard to follow up on from the ground, hence, TESS came about to be even more useful to the broader astronomical community.

The goal: To find planets that are smaller than Neptune, with a radius less than about four times that of Earth.

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Will begin his new work. Stars flaring or going supernova, bursts of interesting radiation, and other events could very well occur.

Mankind's hunt for alien life and potentially habitable planets continues Monday, when a new rocket will push through the Earth's atmosphere carrying precious NASA cargo.

That all changed with the launch of the Kepler space telescope in 2009.

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.

At the first briefing on Sunday, Jesse Christiansen, staff scientist with the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at Caltech, explained TESS's three-pronged approach of exoplanet detection, characterization, and evidence of biosignatures.

Presently, more than a decade since the MIT scientists initially proposed the mission, TESS is about to get off the ground.

Launching this planet hunter is considered a huge step towards making mankind multi-planetary, but SpaceX is already considering ways to use Falcon 9 again in the future. "We have no idea what we're going to see at that timescale". Now the launch is planned for a 30-second window at 6:32 Florida time; if for some reason they miss that window, they'll have to wait until the moon comes round again - a March 20 launch was already canceled.

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