NASA's New Planet Hunter TESS Set To Launch Monday

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Once in orbit, TESS will spend about two years surveying 200,000 of the brightest stars near the sun to search for planets outside our solar system.

Powerful telescopes like NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope can then further study these newly discovered exoplanets to search for important characteristics, like their atmospheric composition and whether they could support life.

"We might even find planets that orbit stars that we can even see with the naked eye", she added.

"One of the biggest questions in exoplanet exploration is: If an astronomer finds a planet in a star's habitable zone, will it be interesting from a biologist's point of view?" said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "This is the future".

NASA Astrophysics director Paul Hertz has said TESS will up the ante for planet research once it reaches orbit.

For centuries we knew of no planets beyond this solar system, until the first trickle of exoplanet discoveries in the 1990s. The scientists expect that thousands of these stars would host transiting planets that they hope to locate through images taken with the cameras of TESS.

NASA's New Planet Hunter TESS Set To Launch Monday
NASA's New Planet Hunter TESS Set To Launch Monday

TESS is designed as a follow-on to the USA space agency's Kepler spacecraft, which was the first of its kind and launched in 2009. 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 Kepler mission found 2,300 confirmed exoplanets, and thousands more candidate planets.

The hardware, setting out on a two-year mission from Cape Canaveral in Florida this Monday, is equipped with four wide angle lenses expected to survey around 85 percent of the entire sky. "By looking at such a large section of the sky, this kind of stellar real estate, we open up the ability to cherry-pick the best stars for doing follow-up science", said Burt.

TESS uses the same method as Kepler for finding potential planets, by tracking the dimming of light when a celestial body passes in front of a star. NASA insists there's no chance of Tess hitting any other satellites or running into the moon, which should never be anywhere close.

By focusing on planets dozens to hundreds of light-years way, TESS may enable future breakthroughs, he said.

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