NASA launches planet-hunting satellite in new search for alien worlds

NASA launches planet-hunting satellite in new search for alien worlds

NASA launches planet-hunting satellite in new search for alien worlds

The launch was originally scheduled for Monday, but rescheduled to conduct additional Guidance Navigation and Control analysis, the agency said.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, hitched a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

TESS will use six thruster burns to progressively elongate its orbits to reach the moon, which will give it a gravitational assist.

The two year mission will cost an estimated $337 million.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and managed by the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center.

The satellite, about the size of a washing machine, will scan the stars for signs of periodic dimming, which may mean that planets are orbiting around them. Then, the two-year mission will officially begin.

If a planet-hunting spacecraft sounds familiar, it's likely because of the rich diversity of worlds found so far by NASA's venerable Kepler space probe. But our incredible wealth of exoplanets is still new.

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The James Webb Space Telescope will, at $ €8 billion, be the most expensive and powerful telescope ever built, and Irish scientists are key to its success.

"One of the many awesome things that Kepler told us is that planets are everywhere and there are all kinds of planets out there", said Dr Patricia "Padi" Boyd, director of the TESS guest investigator programme at Nasa's Goddard Spaceflight Centre. This includes 200,000 of the brightest nearby stars.

It will survey the entire sky over the course of two years. The second year will see the satellite doing the same for the 13 sectors over the northern sky. "Now that Kepler showed us how many planets are out there, and also how many planets that could be like our own are out there, scanning the sky makes sense".

Like Kepler, TESS will search for alien planets using the "transit method", recording the tiny brightness dips these worlds cause as they cross their host stars' faces. If all goes according to plan, TESS will perform a beautifully choreographed orbital ballet of sorts, completing a series of maneuvers in order to fly by the moon on May 17.

Scientists have used their knowledge of what life requires to exist on Earth to narrow down a few fundamental building blocks necessary for it to arise on planets outside of our solar system, called exoplanets.

The cameras can detect light across a broad range of wavelengths, up to infrared. Most of Tess' targets will be cool, common red dwarf stars, thought to be rich breeding grounds for planets.

TESS will use four cameras to search the sky for unknown worlds in the hope of identifying previously undiscovered planets near these stars.

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