This is TESS, short for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Most refrigerators are bigger. Don’t let its diminutive size fool you. TESS has the ability to take understanding of our place in the Universe to a new level.
“Missions like TESS will help us keep learning so that eventually we can answer the question, are we alone or do we just have the best priced real estate in the Galaxy,” Paul Hertz, NASA Director of Astrophysics said.
TESS will set-up shop in an orbit between the Earth and the Moon.
For two years, its four cameras will scan an unprecedented 85 percent of the sky hunting for planets orbiting some 200 thousand nearby stars in our Milky Way Galaxy.
TESS does not have the ability to detect life on other worlds. But, the science team believes it will locate at least fifteen hundred planets five hundred of them Earth sized or super Earths, which are a bit bigger than our home.
But the needle in the haystack, the Holy Grail, will be finding planets in what’s called the Goldilocks zone, orbiting just far enough from their parent stars where it’s not too hot or too cold but just right to possibly sustain life. When the more powerful James Webb Telescope is launched, it will train its lenses on the most promising planets TESS has found to determine if they might indeed have the credentials to support life.
What may surprise you is that the TESS cameras can’t send back an actual image of a planet. So, how do scientists know when they’ve found one? They look for dimming of the star’s light when a planet passes in front of it.
“You wouldn’t even notice the difference but they have mathematics they can use to determine that the light dips just very, very slightly, the star light, as the planet crosses in front. The star light dips and that’s how we find it. We have to do that multiple times to confirm it’s really a planet,” Ken Kremer, founder of SpaceUpClose.com said.
If you’re thinking just how cool it would be to visit one of these worlds… Well, you were born many generations too soon. The fastest spacecraft today would take tens of thousands of years to get to the nearest star and its family of planets.
John Zarrella, CGTN.
Keith Cowing on NASA’s TESS planet-hunting probe
CGTN’s Mike Walter talks wih Keith Cowing, editor of NASAWatch.com, about the agency’s program to find new planets.