TESS: NASA’s planet hunting Spacecraft is now operational

NASA’s new planet hunting Spacecraft Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has become operational and has started collecting data after its successful launch in April 2018. Now, the TESS spacecraft will firstly scan patch of sky in southern hemisphere covering 2,300 degrees from south ecliptic pole to near ecliptic plane. Basically, it’s looking for potential exoplanets in a strip of the sky running from the far south to near the equator. Eventually,

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

TESS mission is led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. It is designed to find potential planets orbiting stars close to Earth. It will identify such planets by spotting decreased brightness of stars after planet passes in front of it. It is successor to Kepler, the space observatory which is responsible for detecting most of the currently known exoplanets.

Primary mission objective of TESS: Survey brightest stars near Earth for transiting exoplanets over two-year period. It will use array of wide-field cameras to perform all-sky survey. Create catalog of thousands of exoplanet candidates using transit photometry method.

Features: TESS observatory weighs just 362 kilograms. It has four wide-view cameras surrounded by sun shade to monitor any dips in brightness from target stars. TESS has no instruments capable of detecting life. Its main job is to find and characterize planets that will become main targets of future telescopes.

Methodology: Like its predecessor Kepler, TESS will use transit method to detect exoplanets. It watches distant stars for small dips in brightness, which can indicate that planet has passed in front of them. Repeated dips will indicate planet passing in front of its star. This data has to be validated by repeated observations and verified by scientists. TESS will be able to observe about 85% of sky over its expected two-year mission. The first year will cover southern hemisphere and then it will move on to northern half of the sky.

Significance of TESS: Data collected by it will help to study mass, size, density and orbit of large cohort of small planets, including sample of rocky worlds in habitable zones (goldilocks zone) of their host stars. This will reveal whether planets are rocky (like Earth), gas or jovian giants (like Jupiter) or something even more unusual.

TESS will be able to scan more of sky than its predecessor Kepler did, but it won’t look at objects as far away. Kepler had maximum range of around 3,000 light years, but TESS’s maximum range is of 300 light years. TESS will be able to track down more super-Earth planets with its powerful array of cameras as compared to Kepler.

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Categories: Science and Technology Current Affairs - 2018

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