TESS. Artist Illustration.
TESS. Source: NASA

TESS has launched, searching for exoplanets that could support life. Fingers crossed!

The end is nigh for Kepler’s Space Telescope. In its place comes the NASA developed TESS, primed to survey about 200,000 of the brightest stars near the sun, searching for exoplanets.
Let’s start at the beginning. The term exoplanet refers to planets similar to Earth, that revolves around a different star (like our very own Sun). They can be in different shapes and sizes, with or without moon(s) that may even revolve two or more stars.

Goodbye Kepler (sad face)

Kepler
Kepler. Source: NASA

Kepler, a spacecraft named after the astronomer Johannes Kepler, was launched at 2009 with 3.5 years of planned operational duration. As you can see, it lasted longer than expected… until now, with it running out of fuel. The mission of this launch was to discover exoplanets – which it did. It discovered 5011 potential exoplanets, out of which 2512 have been confirmed.

Kepler orbits around the sun in a heliocentric orbit trailing Earth. Its orbital period is 372.5 days. The mission supposedly ended in 2013 when one of its wheels broke, disrupting its original field of view (searching field). However, using the sunlight’s pressure, engineers and scientists were able to maintain its pointing and Kepler was reborn as K2.

Doing this required shifting the field of view to new positions every three months, and every time, it consumed fuel slowly. There were 16 campaigns (the term used to descrive the shifting) and it is currently into 17th. K2’s tank will run out of  fuel in a few months, endings its flight operations.

It was a successful mission overall.

Hello TESS (happy face)

Falcon 9 carrying TESS
Falcon 9 carrying TESS. Source: NASA

TESS, short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is a space telescope launched on April 18th 2018 from Cape Canaveral on a Falcon 9. It will search for new planets beyond our Solar System.

What makes TESS extra(terrestrial) special is that it’s not going to search for just any exoplanets, but it’s going to look specifically for Earth-like exoplanets that could possibly harbour life.

Its mission is planned for two years and will be set at 90 degrees alongside the Moon but will orbit the Earth twice in an elliptical orbit. Scientists believe that the orbit will be very stable, away from space debris and radiation.

TESS will begin its primary mission 60 days after its launch date.

Transit method.
Transit method. Source: Wikipedia

In its first two year mission, TESS will monitor over 200,000 stars using transit method, which means it will look for tiny dips in a star’s brightness, confirming that it’s orbiting around its host star.

This brightness of the stars will allow researchers to use spectroscopy, the study of absorption and emission of light to determine the mass, density and atmospheric composition of a planet. If there is water and other key molecules observed in its atmosphere, that would suggest the possibility that it conceals life.

Stephen Rinehart, TESS project scientist at NASA said, “The targets TESS finds are going to be fantastic subjects for research for decades to come. It’s the beginning of a new era of exoplanet research.”

Scientists are not exactly sure what TESS is going to accomplish. But that’s what is so exciting: Expect the unexpected!

Enjoy this? Check out what scientists are saying about Alien malware. (Hint: It’s scary).

Writing under the pseudonym – Halley – a Cyber-security analyst by profession. Passionate about astronomy which set my path to write about it. I love reading, home-cooking and anything adventurous. Intrigued about the unknown.