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?
To answer such questions, NASA is launching Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) on April 16 to find undiscovered worlds around nearby stars, providing targets where future studies will assess their capacity to harbor life. Currently, the satellite is undergoing final preparations in Florida.
TESS will dispatch from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. With the assistance of a gravitational help from the Moon, the shuttle will subside into a 13.7-day circle around Earth. Sixty days after dispatch, and following a trial of its instruments, the satellite will start its underlying two-year mission.
The spacecraft involves four wide-field cameras that offer a field-of-view that covers 85 percent of our entire sky. Inside this immense visual point of view, the sky has been partitioned into 26 areas that TESS will watch one by one. The principal year of perceptions will delineate 13 parts enveloping the southern sky, and the second year will outline 13 areas of the northern sky.
It will look for a phenomenon known as a transit, where a planet passes in front of its star, causing a periodic and regular dip in the star’s brightness. Moreover, it will concentrate on stars less than 300 light-years away and 30 to 100 times brighter than Kepler’s targets.
The splendor of these objective stars will enable specialists to utilize spectroscopy, the investigation of the retention and outflow of light, to decide a planet’s mass, thickness, and air structure. Water, and other key atoms, in its environment, can give us implies about a planets’ ability to harbor life.
Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters said, “We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars. 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.”
Stephen Rinehart, TESS project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland said, “TESS is opening a door for a whole new kind of study. We’re going to be able to study individual planets and start talking about the differences between planets. The targets TESS finds are going to be fantastic subjects for research for decades to come. It’s the beginning of a new era of exoplanet research.”
Recently on March 15, the spacecraft passed a review that confirmed it was ready for launch. For final launch preparations, the spacecraft will be fueled and encapsulated within the payload fairing of its SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Through the TESS Guest Investigator Program, the worldwide scientific community will be able to participate in investigations outside of TESS’s core mission, enhancing and maximizing the science return from the mission in areas ranging from exoplanet characterization to stellar astrophysics and solar system science.
TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT and managed by Goddard. George Ricker, of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, serves as principal investigator for the mission. TESS’s four wide-field cameras were developed by MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. Additional partners include Orbital ATK, NASA’s Ames Research Center, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the Space Telescope Science Institute. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.