NASA's Planet-Hunting Satellite to Launch on April 18

Carrie Guzman
April 17, 2018

The spacecraft will monitor the brightness of over 200,000 stars in order to see if any get dimmer, which could indicate that they have orbiting planets, according to NASA. It spent years staring at stars in a small patch of the sky to look for a tell-tale dimming that meant a planet had passed by and blocked some of the starlight. Scientists at the space agency expect TESS to add hundreds of Earth-sized and super-Earth-sized planets into the existing catalog of exoplanets and bolster our search for life beyond Earth. If planets are everywhere, then it is time for us to find the planets that are closest to us orbiting bright nearby stars, because these will be the touchstone system.

The TESS mission coincides with the debut of powerful new ground- and space-based observatories, including NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2020.

At a total cost of $337 million, the washing-machine-size spacecraft is built to search the nearest, brightest stars for signs of periodic dimming.

It promises an ability to resolve the atmospheres of some of the new worlds, to look for gases that might hint at the presence of life.

NASA Scientists believe they will find some giant planets, like Jupiter, but will also find planets that are similar in size to Earth.

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Within this vast visual perspective, the sky has been divided into 26 sectors that Tess will observe one by one. The first data from TESS is expected to be made public in July, and Nasa says citizen astronomers are welcome to help study the planets for signs of possible habitability.

This variability is a effect of resonances in the outer layers of the stars, and it allows the British professor to pull out a lot of extra information. That is still too far away for humans to visit, but George Ricker, the Tess principal investigator from MIT, seems confident that technologies will emerge this century to allow robotic probes to reach some of his satellite's discoveries in a reasonable timeframe.

TESS should arrive in orbit around Earth - on a never-before-used, highly elliptical path that takes it close to the moon - about two months later.

"TESS is very much a trash-treasure sort of mission", said Natalia Guerrero, deputy manager for the TESS Objects of Interest team.

"We can imagine an armada of nano-satellites that will be sweeping out from the Earth to send back information", he said.

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