NASA Spacecraft Aims To Find and Map Mystery Planets

18 April, 2018, 00:42 | Author: Cecelia Webb
  • NASA’s new planet hunter launches this week to seek new worlds

The rocket will carry NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) which will discover thousands of exoplanets in orbit around the brightest stars in the sky.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), was supposed to launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in the early hours today.

A SpaceX rocket is scheduled to blast off with Tess at 6:32 p.m.

NASA's LIVE Coverage of the TESS Satellite launch aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket.

"TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds whose properties can be probed by NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and other missions".

The spacecraft is meant to be maneuvered into an unusual Earth orbit that ranges in altitude from roughly 63,000 to 200,000 miles. Not only can it observe more area of space, but it will also look for stars that are 30 to 100 times brighter than those observed by Kepler. "By human nature, we look for exploration and adventure, and this is an opportunity to see what's next", NASA's Sandra Connelly, a science program director, said Sunday on the eve of launch. The mission is expected to create a database of thousands of new planet candidates that could increase the space agency's current figure of exoplanets.

"It was created to look at 150,000 stars in a fairly wide field of view without blinking, for four years", she told reporters on the eve of the launch.

It will stare at stars, hoping to catch the dip in brightness as their faces are traversed by orbiting worlds. The planets could be rocky, like Earth; gas giants, like Jupiter; or "something even more unusual".

"TESS is the first step", said Stephen Rinehart, TESS project scientist at Nasa's Goddard Spaceflight Centre.

NASA's planet-hunting pioneer, the Kepler Space Telescope, has spent the past nine years focusing on considerably fainter, more distant stars and discovered almost three-quarters of the 3,700-plus exoplanets confirmed to date.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) spacecraft is in excellent health, and remains ready for launch.

"We expect TESS will discover a number of planets whose atmospheric compositions hold potential clues to the presence of life, which could be precisely measured by future observers", George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in Cambridge, which is leading the mission, previously told TechRadar.

Why has TESS mission been delayed?

"We can imagine an armada of nano-satellites that will be sweeping out from the Earth to send back information", he said.

The first data from TESS is expected to be made public in July, and Nasa says citizen astronomers are welcome to help study the planets. "But I want to add that we care about all the planets that we find, not just the habitable ones - because for a variety of reasons, all the planets matter".


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