Published: Sun, April 15, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Watch launch of TESS planet-hunting mission April 16

Watch launch of TESS planet-hunting mission April 16

The launch, under normal circumstances, will commence on Monday morning, starting at 6:32 EDT, from the Launch Complex 40 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in Florida, in the USA.

TESS, a new NASA planet-hunting spacecraft, is set to write the next revolutionary chapter in astronomy by revealing more details about the nearest exoplanets and, perhaps, uncovering the first signs of life seen beyond our spinning rock.

SpaceX posted in a tweet that it had finished static fire testing of the Falcon 9 rocket in preparation for the targeted launch of TESS next week.

Like Kepler, TESS will find exoplanets by looking for what astronomers call transits, in which planets' orbits take them in front of their host stars and temporarily block a portion of the starlight. The TESS was sealed inside the Falcon 9 payload fairing.

During the launch, the Falcon 9 rocket will lift off with 10 Merlin engines on board.

Once launched, the new TESS satellite will be studied closely by NASA to keep a close eye on 200,000 stars. The space agency will give a mission overview at 11 be followed with a press conference at 1 p.m. Mission scientists and experts involved in the TESS mission will answer questions during the live broadcast.

Scientists speculate that the habitable or so-called Goldilocks zone - the distance from a star where it's neither too hot nor too cold to support life, but just right with the potential for liquid water at the surface - should be much closer to red dwarfs than it is in our own solar system.

Should the launch carry out successfully, TESS will travel into its final trajectory around the Earth.

As MIT professor, Sara Seager, explained that NASA's new satellite will be the ideal tool for discovering which new exoplanets we should be studying next.

Equipped with four specialized cameras, TESS will be able to gaze at 85 percent of the entire sky, according to reports. TESS will then position itself on a 13.7-day orbit. Ricker said Tess will survey stars anywhere from 300 light-years to 500 light-years away.

In February this year, 95 new exoplanets were discovered beyond the solar system through the Kepler telescope. They're no more than half the size of our sun.

To date, ten more exoplanets were added to NASA's exoplanet archive. Since its debut, the Kepler telescope alone has discovered over 2,600 confirmed exoplanets.

TESS is part of the NASA's Astrophysics Explorer mission that is led and operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Having TESS in the fold is just fantastic", Jessie Dotson, an astrophysicist at NASA's Ames Research Center and the project scientist for the Kepler spacecraft, told The Verge.

"We're going to look at every single one of those stars", said George Ricker.

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