NASA’s new satellite will scan the cosmos for alien worlds

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NASA’s new satellite will scan the cosmos for alien worlds‘NBCNews.comNASA’s incredible exoplanet-hunting telescope is about to launch‘Popular ScienceNASA’s TESS spacecraft may find 1600 new planets in the next two years‘EngadgetNASA is about to step up its planet-hunting game with the launch of TESS‘Los Angeles Times

NASA’s new satellite will scan the cosmos for alien worlds

With help from NASA’s Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft, astronomers have identified more than 2,000 planets beyond our solar system over the past decade. Now the space agency is sending up a new satellite that promises to be even better at sniffing out alien worlds ‘ with the hope that we may finally be able to find one that harbors extraterrestrial life.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is scheduled to lift off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Monday, April 16, at 6:32 p.m. EDT. The space probe will study star systems that are 10 to 300 light-years from Earth. That’s relatively close in astronomical terms ‘ and far closer than the stars that Kepler, which launched in 2009, was designed to study.

‘My great hope is that TESS will find new mysteries,’ said Dr. Stephen Rinehart, a project scientist for the mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. ‘Maybe we’ll find something out there that nobody expected and will leave people scratching their heads.’

Equipped with four specialized cameras, TESS will be able to gaze at 85 percent of the entire sky, according to Dr. George Ricker, the mission’s principal investigator and a scientist at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The field of view includes about 20 million stars, he said.

Like Kepler, TESS will find exoplanets by looking for what astronomers call transits, in which planets’ orbits take them in front of their host stars and temporarily block a portion of the starlight. If TESS observes a periodic dimming of light from a particular star, it’s reasonable to infer that the star is being orbited by at least one alien world.

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Not to change the topic here:

NASA’s incredible exoplanet-hunting telescope is about to launch

But there is some good news on the horizon for astronomers, astrophysicists, planetary geologists, and people who just like learning neat things about far-away worlds. It’s TESS’short for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. If all goes well, the new telescope will launch on Monday evening aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. It’s a relatively small satellite, but researchers have giant hopes for what it might discover. It has the potential to identify thousands of new planets, hundreds of rocky worlds like Earth, and dozens of planets hanging out in their star’s habitable zone (where liquid water could exist on the surface), all within our own little corner of the galaxy.

‘Kepler was amazing, and Kepler’s legacy is that we now know that there is a huge diversity of planets out there,’ says Lisa Kaltenegger, Director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell and a member of the TESS science team. Kaltenegger and her colleagues want to build on the knowledge gained from Kepler and take a closer look at some exoplanets that are hanging out around stars a little closer to home.

TESS will systematically examine 85 percent of the sky seen from Earth, focusing on the stars visible in the northern hemisphere for one year, and the southern hemisphere for the next year. It will keep its peeping within 300 light years away from Earth. That might seem like a large distance, but to an astronomer, it’s right in our neighborhood. To put it in perspective, our galaxy is about 100,000 light years across.

‘If you think about it, the closest star, Proxima Centauri, is about 4 light years away. We are looking at everything that is bright and close out to 300 light years, so about 100 times that distance, and there’s a huge number of stars that we can look at,’ Kaltenegger says.

Within that range, TESS will watch over 200,000 stars for evidence of planets over the course of a two-year mission, taking pictures of a segment of the sky every 30 minutes for 27 days. As with Kepler, researchers will use TESS to watch for moments when stars dim, which happens when a planet passes between the star and TESS. The dips in light can tell us a lot about a planet’s size, shape, and what it’s made of.

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  • Publisher: Popular Science
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NASA’s TESS spacecraft may find 1600 new planets in the next two years

On Monday evening, NASA plans to launch a brand new satellite into orbit, courtesy of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Called TESS (the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), the spacecraft is designed to detect planets outside our solar system (called exoplanets) that are relatively close to our solar neighborhood.

We have a spacecraft that’s currently in orbit of the Sun that has a similar job. It’s called Kepler, and in the nine years it’s been in space, this little satellite has found 2,342 confirmed exoplanets, with 2,245 more candidates that still need to be studied. Thirty of these are confirmed to be within the “habitable zone” of their host star, which is close enough for liquid water to exist on the surface but not so close that the planet is scorched by the star’s heat. (It’s also called the “Goldilocks” zone, though presumably, there are no bears to be found on these distant worlds).

Kepler’s original mission, which was designed to last three and a half years, was to point itself at a single group of stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region. As a result, it constantly monitored the brightness of around 150,000 main-sequence stars using an onboard photometer. By looking at a tiny part of a very big sky, Kepler was able to monitor when the brightness of these stars dimmed even the slightest bit, which signaled that something (like a planet) might be moving in front of it. (This is called transiting). Scientists then analyzed the data that Kepler sent home and were able to confirm its exoplanet discoveries.

Thanks to Kepler, we know that exoplanets are incredibly common in our galaxy — scientists have discovered that there are actually 1.6 planets for every star in the Milky Way. Before Kepler, we didn’t know much about these planets at all.

TESS will operate differently than Kepler did. We don’t need to know whether there are exoplanets out there anymore. Now, we want to know more about the distant worlds we do find. That’s hard with Kepler’s data because so many of its discoveries are far away — too far to really glean most details about these planets. That’s where TESS comes in.

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  • Publisher: Engadget
  • Date: 2018-04-13T15:27:00-04:00
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Meet TESS, Seeker of Alien Worlds
(since Mar, 2018) No earlier than 6:32 p.m. on April 16, in NASA’s fractured parlance, a little spacecraft known as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS . scanning the sky for alien worlds. TESS is the latest effort to try to answer questions that have

Meet TESS, NASA’s new seeker of alien worlds
(since Mar, 2018) No earlier than 6:32 p.m. on April 16, in NASA’s fractured parlance, a little spacecraft known as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS . scanning the sky for alien worlds. TESS is the latest effort to try to answer questions that have

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