NASA’s TESS satellite launches to look for livable planets nearby

Space X successfully launches TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite a.k.a. "The Planet Hunter." NASA will use it to search for planets that may support extraterrestrial life.

Space X successfully launches TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite a.k.a. "The Planet Hunter." NASA will use it to search for planets that may support extraterrestrial life. 


It will use the Earth's gravity to "slingshot" to where it will end up, and it's a joint NASA/SpaceX venture.

"The Moon and the satellite are in a sort of dance," Joel Villasenor, instrument scientist for TESS at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said. "The Moon pulls the satellite on one side, and by the time TESS completes one orbit, the Moon is on the other side tugging in the opposite direction. The overall effect is the Moon's pull is evened out, and it's a very stable configuration over many years. Nobody's done this before, and I suspect other programs will try to use this orbit later on."

When the Kepler space telescope launched in 2009, its target was to find planets between the size of Earth and Neptune, from 500 and 1500 light year away. 

But TESS is designed to find planets much closer. 

SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak told Space.com, "Kepler is what made us become aware that planets are as common as telephone poles. But the stars that Kepler was staring at for four years … they were all somewhere between 500 and 1,500 light-years away." 

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

It’s not designed to find Earth-like planets, but instead, planets that are orbiting the “habitable zone” of nearby small stars. Further study can then be done by regular scientific telescopes. 

Since the planets discovered by TESS will be much closer, they can be studied much more easily. Since different gases absorb different light wavelengths, planet atmospheres can be pretty quickly determined, once viable candidates are found. 

Scientists will be specifically looking for signatures of life, such as water vapor, oxygen, methane, and more. 

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice
popular

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less