Tech & Science TESS, NASA's new planet hunter, will search for alien worlds around our nearest stars

19:06  15 april  2018
19:06  15 april  2018 Source:   ABC News

NASA's new planet-hunter to seek closer, Earth-like worlds

  NASA's new planet-hunter to seek closer, Earth-like worlds NASA is poised to launch a $337 million washing machine-sized spacecraft that aims to vastly expand mankind's search for planets beyond our solar system, particularly closer, Earth-sized ones that might harbor life. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, is scheduled to launch Monday at 6:32 pm (2232 GMT) atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its main goal over the next two years is to scan more than 200,000 of the brightest stars for signs of planets circling them and causing a dip in brightness known as a transit.

In its search for new worlds , TESS will find dozens of rocky planets about the size of Earth—and even more bigger rocky planets known as a super-Earths—orbiting stars that are about the size of the sun.

NASA plans to launch a planet - hunter of its own in 2017, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. TESS will use the transit method to search for worlds orbiting nearby stars , with a focus on Earth-size planets that may be capable of supporting life.

Astronomers hope the Transiting Survey Satellite (TESS) will find at least 20,000 new alien worlds.© Provided by ABC News Astronomers hope the Transiting Survey Satellite (TESS) will find at least 20,000 new alien worlds. Just a decade ago, we had no idea whether worlds with qualities like our own blue planet existed around other stars in the Milky Way.

That all changed with the launch of the Kepler space telescope in 2009.

At last count NASA's planet-finder has helped identify 2,400 alien planets of all sizes, including entire solar systems, orbiting faraway stars.

"It's changed our view of planets, it's changed our view of our solar system and how common exoplanets are out there," said Brad Tucker of the Australian National University.

NASA Is Launching Its Next Planet-Hunting Telescope

  NASA Is Launching Its Next Planet-Hunting Telescope Scientists are excited about the prospect the mission holds for new discoveries, but if you're just learning about the mission now, here's what you need to know.TESS is the successor to Kepler, which revolutionized exoplanet science and is responsible for spotting almost three quarters of the planets astronomers have identified to date. But Kepler will run out of fuel sometime in the next few months, so scientists have been working for years to make sure something would be ready to replace it.

Searching for aliens closer to home: Nasa ' s next Nasa ' s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite ( TESS ) will launch in 2017/18 It will look for planets using the transit method, observing dips in star light The search for alien life on distant planets is hotting up, and Nasa now wants to focus closer to

Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 5:22 PM - NASA ' s newest exoplanet hunter is go for launch on Monday, and is set to draw back the veil on our universe, to reveal the multitude of alien planets that are no doubt surrounding us.

But even though Kepler has discovered a swag of planets, we still know very little about alien worlds because most of the ones we've found are too far away to be easily studied by ground-based telescopes for hints of life.

NASA's new planet-hunting telescope promises to change that.

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

NASA Is Launching Its Next Planet-Hunting Telescope

  NASA Is Launching Its Next Planet-Hunting Telescope Scientists are excited about the prospect the mission holds for new discoveries, but if you're just learning about the mission now, here's what you need to know.TESS is the successor to Kepler, which revolutionized exoplanet science and is responsible for spotting almost three quarters of the planets astronomers have identified to date. But Kepler will run out of fuel sometime in the next few months, so scientists have been working for years to make sure something would be ready to replace it.

[ NASA ’ s TESS Exoplanet- Hunter in PicturesGets Prepped for Launch]. If TESS achieves this goal, these worlds would add a remarkable catalog of nearby planet host stars , including Proxima Centauri, which is only 4 light years from Earth and TRAPPIST-1.

TESS will scrutinize more than 200,000 nearby stars for signs of orbiting worlds , many of which could end up being studied in detail by other observatories, mission team members said. [The Strangest Alien Planets (Gallery)]. " TESS is opening a door for a whole new kind of study

"It's going to be a discovery machine," Dr Tucker said. "Our number of exoplanets is going to go through the roof."

How to spot an alien next door

George Ricker, from the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is leading the mission.

"TESS will find planets that ultimately we hope will be reasonable targets for interstellar probes in the future," Dr Ricker said.

The minibus-sized craft is equipped with four wide field cameras that can see in the near-infrared spectrum, looking for dips in light as planets pass in front of their stars.

Instead of looking for faraway planets in a small patch of the sky, TESS will survey the whole sky — dividing it into 26 slabs. Starting with the southern hemisphere, the survey will take two years to complete, covering an area 400 times greater than Kepler.

It will also be in an orbit that comes to within 100,000 km of Earth (Kepler was about 10 million kilometres away) so it will be able to download a lot of data very quickly.

SpaceX blasts off NASA's new planet-hunter, TESS

  SpaceX blasts off NASA's new planet-hunter, TESS NASA on Wednesday blasted off its newest planet-hunting spacecraft, TESS, a $337 million satellite that aims to scan 85 percent of the skies for cosmic bodies where life may exist. "Three, two, one and liftoff!" said a NASA commentator as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) soared into the blue sky atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 6:51 pm (2251 GMT).The washing machine-sized spacecraft is built to search outside the solar system, scanning the nearest, brightest stars for signs of periodic dimming. These so-called "transits" may mean that planets are in orbit around them.

TESS was proposed even before NASA ’ s planet - hunting Kepler space telescope, launched in 2009, demonstrated These are the stars directly above and below the ecliptic plane, in which the planets move around the sun. Recent Articles. Pence Calls for " New Era of Space Exploration" at NASA .

The search for alien life on distant planets is hotting up, and Nasa now wants to focus closer to home. From next year, one of Nasa ’ s exoplanet surveys will look at the planets orbiting stars just outside our solar system.

"In 30-minute samples, Kepler was able to look at about 170,000 stars. TESS will be able to look at 30-50 million stars in that period."

And that means a lot more planets.

"We should be able to find 20,000 planets of all sizes ranging from Jupiter-sized planets to planets the size of Earth or even the size of Mars."

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

"The host stars for those planets are generally about 100 times brighter than those found by Kepler because they are about 10 times closer in general."

And the closer the star, the easier it will be to see the planet's atmosphere as it passes in front of its sun.

"If you wanted to make these kind of measurements with the planetary systems discovered by Kepler you'd need a telescope 65 metres in diameter. That's just not practical now."

In particular, TESS will home in on stars called M-dwarfs or red dwarfs.

"More than 75 per cent of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy are this type," Dr Ricker explained.

"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."

NASA's TESS spacecraft may find 1,600 new planets in the next two years

  NASA's TESS spacecraft may find 1,600 new planets in the next two years On Monday evening, NASA plans to launch a brand new satellite into orbit, courtesy of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. On Monday evening (Tuesday AEST), NASA plans to launch a brand new satellite into orbit, courtesy of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Called TESS (the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), the spacecraft is designed to detect planets outside our solar system (called exoplanets) that are relatively close to our solar neighbourhood.

Exoplanets: Latest News About Alien Worlds . An alien planet orbits a star other than our sun, and is sometimes called an "exoplanet." Inside the Clean Room with NASA ' s TESS Exoplanet Hunter (Images).

Kepler — NASA ’ s premier planet hunter found more than 1,000 exoplanets in its first four years. TESS — NASA ’ s next exoplanet telescope, set to launch next year, will spend two years scouring 200,000 stars for the closest planets to our solar system.

These stars are smaller and cooler than our Sun, so it may be easier to spot habitable planets, said astronomer Tim Bedding of the University of Sydney.

While there are portions of the sky that will be viewed for an entire year, in most cases TESS will focus on different slabs of sky each month. This means many of the planets it detects will have short orbits.

"Now a few weeks to a month around the sun is really hot. But a few weeks to a month around a red dwarf could still be quite pleasant in terms of temperature if you like the Goldilocks zone," said Professor Bedding.

Planet hunters are more than planet hunters

While alien planet discoveries grab headlines, data from the planet hunters can tell us much more about other aspects of our galaxy and beyond.

Professor Bedding and colleagues used data from the Kepler spacecraft to discover a phenomenon known as star quakes in red giant stars. These oscillations tell us how old stars are and what will happen to our Sun.

Because TESS surveys the whole sky it will provide data on many more stars than Kepler did.

"If we can [study stars] from all directions in our galaxy we can understand how our galaxy formed and all the different parts formed in different order and how they came together," Professor Bedding explained.

NASA's Tess spacecraft embarks on quest to find new planets

  NASA's Tess spacecraft embarks on quest to find new planets NASA's Tess spacecraft embarked on a quest to find new worlds around neighbouring stars that could support life. Tess rode a SpaceX Falcon rocket through the evening sky, aiming for an orbit stretching all the way to the moon.The satellite — the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or Tess — will scan almost the entire sky for at least two years, staring at the closest, brightest stars in an effort to find and identify any planets around them.

NASA ’ s next planet hunter will look closer to home. By Elaine Hunt , NASA ' s Goddard Space Flight Center. TESS will look at the nearest , brightest stars to find planetary candidates that scientists will observe for years to come.

"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 ," said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters.

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.

"One of the cool things that've realised is we should discover some gravitational wave sources, kilonova, with TESS," Dr Tucker said.

But the Holy Grail for Professor Ricker would be to discover something completely unpredictable.

"There are so many things that TESS may find that are related to exoplanets and phenomenon we know already," he said.

"If you think of the discovery space TESS will be able to explore ... there's lots and lots of objects that may lie in that space and we just have no idea they're actually there."

Australian telescopes will play role in discoveries

TESS will send its data back down to Earth using NASA's Deep Space Network in Canberra, Madrid, and California.

From there, astronomers will follow up TESS's discoveries using ground-based telescopes as well as other space telescopes such as the future James Webb Space Telescope.

While Kepler's planets could only be viewed by telescopes in the northern hemisphere, TESS will discover planets that can be seen in the southern hemisphere.

"One of the problems that we had with Kepler is that it looked at this really small patch of the sky, so unless your telescope was in the right position with the right instrument there you won't see it.

"[TESS] is going to be looking all over so we can have instruments all over the world looking in different ways and shapes to follow up what it discovers," Dr Tucker says.

Planets Orbiting Binary Stars Can Be Thrown Into Space

  Planets Orbiting Binary Stars Can Be Thrown Into Space If one planet gets thrown out, others in the neighborhood might go down with it, the study suggested.David Fleming, a student from University of Washington and the lead author of the study, posited the theory after taking a close look at short-term eclipsing binaries, or the system in which the orbital path of stars is so close to the line of sight, one star appears to cross the other’s path for a short while.

New hunter on exoplanets from NASA soon will begin its work after the space telescope Kepler will work out all the remaining fuel. New tool to find planets in other star systems have nicknamed TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite).

TESS will look at the nearest , brightest stars to find planetary candidates that scientists will observe for years to come. Credit: NASA ' s Goddard Space Flight Center. As the search for life on distant planets heats up, NASA ' s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite ( TESS )

One of the Australian projects that will follow up TESS's discoveries is called Funnelweb.

It will use the UK Schmidt telescope at Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran, to examine the light coming from nearby stars using an instrument called TAIPAN, Professor Bedding said.

"It has a spectrograph inside it with fibres that can position themselves called star bugs. They can move around and get themselves in the right spot where the star is," he said.

Countdown to launch

The little satellite with the big mission is currently sitting in a clean room in Cape Canaveral awaiting launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Once blasted into space, it will eventually sit in a special orbit (red) that goes out to 250,000 kilometres then sweeps back to within 100,000 kilometres of Earth.

During one of its early orbits (green) it will be flung by gravity from the Moon (yellow) into a final position that ensures it continuously views the sky, and its solar panels always get light.

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.

"We think that if things go the way they should and things work the way they should then we could probably operate for up to 20 years," he said.

Kepler's mission, in the meantime, is slowly drawing to an end.

Although about to start a new campaign, it is gradually running out of fuel and drifting further away from Earth.

But having the two craft in space together, albeit for a short time, is exciting, said Dr Tucker.

"The original view is that there would be a big gap between the two.

"Now they technically might actually overlap which is something that we never thought was going to be possible," he said.

The Planet That Took Us Beyond the Solar System .
<p>An unusual discovery in the 1990s paved the way for space telescopes to spot thousands of exoplanets.</p>The discovery of 51 Pegasi b, as it was called, was just the beginning. The astronomy community was witnessing “A Parade of New Planets,” declared a headline in Scientific American in 1996. In the months since the exoplanet discovery had been announced, the publication reported, astronomers had reported finding at least four more planets.

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