NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) Looks Nearby

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is NASA's latest effort at identifing planets orbiting the brightest stars just outside our solar system.


(Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS))

When a planet passes in front of, or transits, its parent star, it blocks some of the star's light. TESS searches for these telltale dips in brightness, which can reveal the planet's presence and provide additional information about it.

TESS will be able to learn the sizes of the planets it sees and how long it takes them to complete an orbit. These two pieces of information are critical to understanding whether a planet is capable of supporting life. Nearly all other planet classifications will come from follow up observations, by both TESS team ground telescopes as well as ground- and space-based observations, including NASA's James Webb Space Telescope launching in 2018.

TESS will survey most of the sky by segmenting it into 26 different segments known as tiles. The spacecraft's powerful cameras will look continuously at each tile for just over 27 days, measuring visible light from the brightest targets every two minutes. TESS will look at stars classified as twelfth apparent magnitude and brighter, some of which are visible to the naked eye. The higher the apparent magnitude, the fainter the star. For comparison, most people can see stars as faint as sixth magnitude in a clear dark sky and the faintest star in the Big Dipper ranks as third magnitude.

Golden Age science fiction master Edmond Hamilton described the idea of an automated habitable planet-finding telescope in his 1936 short story Cosmic Quest:

I was near enough it now to set my automatic astronomical instruments to searching it for a habitable planet.

These instruments were the wonderful ones our astronomers had perfected. With super-telescopic eyes each one scanned a part of the star field before them. And each mechanical eye, when it found planetary systems in its field, automatically shifted upon them a higher powered telespectroscope which recorded on permanent film the size, mean temperature and atmospheric conditions of these worlds.
(Read more about Hamilton's search for habitable planets)


(The telespectroscope recorded the conditions of these other worlds)

If you're interested in looking to move close by, see Looking For Earth-Like Worlds With Nulling Interferometry.

Via NASA.

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