Our solar system only has eight planets (sorry, Pluto), but many others orbit around other stars in the Milky Way. So far, astronomers have not been able to examine them in great detail, including the search for signs of life, but that is about to change. The search for alien worlds will take another leap on Monday with the launch of NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.
The satellite, known as TESS, will search for new planets around nearby bright stars, with the goal of finding similar planets. to Earth in size and makeup. It's scheduled to launch Monday night at 6:32 p.m. East from the Kennedy Space Center.
TESS begins its mission as its predecessor, the cackling of the Kepler Space Telescope, is running out of fuel and is coming to an end. Kepler revolutionized the search for planets around stars other than ours, and found about 5,000 planets and planetary candidates. Thanks to Kepler, astronomers now believe that most stars come with planets.
But if Kepler was a census mission, TESS will serve as a demographer in depth, taking the measure of specific types of stars and planets. It is specifically looking for planets around nearby bright stars, which other telescopes on the ground or in space can study more easily.
"Many of the stars that Kepler found exoplanets around were extremely weak and very far away, which made them really difficult to follow from the ground, so TESS became even more useful for the astronomical community in general," he says. Natalia Guerrero, deputy director of the TESS Objects of Interest project.
Like Kepler, TESS will find exoplanets looking for telltale indicators of the brightness of a star. that indicate a planet that passes in front of it. Astronomers can use these transits to count the size of a planet. To discover the mass of a planet, astronomers need to take their spectrum, but TESS will not be able to do so. The follow-up measurements are therefore key to your overall mission.
"By making those measurements, we hope to really identify all the worlds we've been dreaming about," said MIT astronomer Sara Seager, deputy director of science at TESS. at a press conference about the launch. That includes "super hot lands that can have liquid lava lakes". Or water worlds that can have 50 percent or more water in mass, like larger-scale versions of Jupiter's icy moons. Or rocky worlds, of all types and even perhaps with thin atmospheres reminiscent of those on Earth. "
Using its four cameras, the TESS the size of a refrigerator will create a map of 85 percent of the sky, a field 350 times that of Kepler, the search for TESS will include 200,000 of the brightest nearby stars, and it is expected to find some 20,000 new worlds during its main mission of two years, its observational sweet spot is for red dwarf stars, which They are about half the size of our sun Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the solar system, is one of those stars and has at least one exoplanet.
While looking for exoplanets, TESS will also see other unrelated phenomena, such as supernovas or other rapidly changing objects, Guerrero says the TESS team is working on ways to share those findings quickly and publicly. s important scientific missions, TESS will not have any property data; everything you collect will flow to a data file that any scientist can use immediately.
"When TESS was being built, one of its slogans was 'it's the people's telescope,'" says Guerrero. "We are really trying to stay true to that goal."
Once Guerrero's team of objects of interest realizes which stars to follow, other observatories will examine them in more detail. For example, the James Webb Space Telescope, now scheduled for launch in 2020, will analyze some of the TESS planets to look for signs of life. Determining where to target JWST is one of the main objectives of TESS, said MIT astronomer George Ricker, TESS principal investigator.
Monday's launch marks the first time NASA uses the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for a science mission. After the launch, TESS will fine tune its orbit for two months before starting to collect data. It will navigate around the Earth every 13.7 days, in a highly elliptical orbit that maximizes the amount of sky it can see and is equivalent to half the orbital period of the moon. The gravity of the Moon will stabilize TESS without the need for additional fuel, which could prolong the life of the mission.
Kepler changed the field of exoplanets, and TESS could usher in another radical change, says Guerrero.
"The headlines have changed over the past few years, from 'Exoplaneta found' to 'multiple exoplanets found'. We believe that it will change again now, up to & # 39; Something new about exoplanets has been found, "he says.
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