NASA satellite to launch will seek new exoplanets


The launch will be from Cape Canaveral, Florida, unless there is a new delay.

"S will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars", Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division director, said in a statement. "People are very interested in looking for, what on Earth, are bio-signatures, such as methane, carbon dioxide, water vapour and oxygen".

"It was meant to take a gander at 150,000 stars in a genuinely wide field of view without flickering, for a long time", she told columnists on the eve of the dispatch.

The satellite, developed by scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA, aims to discover thousands of nearby exoplanets, including at least 50 Earth-sized ones.

Set for launch in 2028, ARIEL - with the location of thousands of exoplanets discovered by TESS - will be able to "sniff" their atmospheres to determine their chemical composition and answer the question: how do planetary systems form and evolve?

The launch of TESS will be immediately beneficial to scientists down here on Earth, but the satellite will also lay the groundwork for future missions, most notably the European Space Agency's Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) spacecraft.

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"We know of several thousand planets now, and with Tess, we expect to find maybe 10,000 more planets", added Tom Barclay, a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

For most of the stars observed by Tess, this special distance will be a short one. These events are called transits, hence TESS' name.

"TESS is going to dramatically increase the number of planets that we have to study", said Ricker. He is interested in the variations in the brightness of the stars that will be observed by Tess.

This variability is a effect of resonances in the stars' outer layers, and it allows the British professor to pull out a lot of extra information. We can say how massive they are and how old they are. "So, in essence we can do the equivalent of an ultrasound scan on them". After its two-year mission, TESS will be replaced by the James Webb Space Telescope, a space telescope scheduled to launch in May 2020.

An artist's concept of TESS in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star.

This highly-elliptical orbit will help maximize TESS's field of vision, making it possible for the satellite's four cameras to image up to 85 percent of the sky. More than 3,700 exoplanets have been confirmed to date using a variety of techniques. It will collect about 27 gigabytes - or 6,500 song files - per day and send data back every two weeks.