April 26, 2018

Watch launch of TESS planet-hunting mission April 16

16 April 2018, 06:11 | Kevin Scott

Watch launch of TESS planet-hunting mission April 16

Watch launch of TESS planet-hunting mission April 16

As days are going by, new things in the space exploration are being discovered.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, is set to be launched at 8:30am AEST this Tuesday from Cape Canaveral.

The Transit Exoplanet Survey Satellite has been in the works for years and in a way could be considered a sort of direct successor to the Kepler, the incredibly fruitful mission that has located thousands of exoplanets over almost a decade. "TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds".

TESS will survey the sky, looking for small dips in a distant star's light as a planet passes between the satellite and its star.

These planets will be some of our closest neighbours, orbiting stars we can actually see when we look up at the sky.

Staring at bigger patches of the sky will also make it easier to see when stars blow up, says ANU's Dr Tucker, who studies supernovas found by Kepler. And because the stars are so dim, their habitable zones are much more compact, which means TESS could witness multiple transits within each of its 27-day observing periods.

The first year of observations will cover 13 sectors encompassing the southern sky and the second year will map the remaining 13 sectors of the northern sky.

NASA's Kepler spacecraft used the same method to spot more than 2,600 confirmed exoplanets, majority orbiting faint stars 300 to 3,000 light-years away.

"They're a cool, red star, and from the small number of those that have been discovered by Kepler, it looks like they have about twice as many planets as stars like the Sun".

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"TESS is opening a door for a whole new kind of study", said Stephen Rinehart, one of the TESS project scientists, in a NASA release. "We have no idea what we're going to see at that timescale".

The goal: To find planets that are smaller than Neptune, with a radius less than about four times that of Earth.

Will begin his new work.

TESS being checked pre-launch; engineers included for scale.

This stable 13.7 day "lunar resonant" orbit, which has never been tried before, should allow TESS to operate for well beyond two years, said Professor Ricker. Within this vast visual perspective, the sky has been divided into 26 sectors that TESS will observe one by one.

Presently, more than a decade since the MIT scientists initially proposed the mission, TESS is about to get off the ground.

This isn't the first time scientists will have used the transit method to find new exoplanets.

The spacecraft will be carried into orbit by SpaceX, and will ride one of the company's Falcon 9 rockets out of the atmosphere.

You'll be able to watch the launch live, of course; I'll add a link as soon as it's available. Now the launch is planned for a 30-second window at 6:32 Florida time; if for some reason they miss that window, they'll have to wait until the moon comes round again - a March 20 launch was already canceled.

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