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TESS: The Planet Hunter

TESS: The Planet Hunter

So you’re thinking…who’s TESS? But, it’s more like: WHAT is TESS? 

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is an explorer-class planet finder that is scheduled to launch in April 2018. This mission will search the entire sky for exoplanets — planets outside our solar system that orbit sun-like stars.

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In the first-ever space borne all-sky transit survey, TESS will identify planets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, orbiting a wide range of stellar types and orbital distances.

The main goal of this mission is to detect small planets with bright host stars in the solar neighborhood, so that we can better understand these planets and their atmospheres.

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TESS will have a full time job monitoring the brightness of more than 200,000 stars during a two year mission. It will search for temporary drops in brightness caused by planetary transits. These transits occur when a planet’s orbit carries it directly in front of its parent star as viewed from Earth (cool GIF below).

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TESS will provide prime targets for further, more detailed studies with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), as well as other large ground-based and space-based telescopes of the future.

What is the difference between TESS and our Kepler spacecraft?

TESS and Kepler address different questions: Kepler answers “how common are Earth-like planets?” while TESS answers “where are the nearest transiting rocky planets?”

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What do we hope will come out of the TESS mission?

The main goal is to find rocky exoplanets with solid surfaces at the right distance from their stars for liquid water to be present on the surface. These could be the best candidates for follow-up observations, as they fall within the “habitable zone” and be at the right temperatures for liquid water on their surface.

TESS will use four cameras to study sections of the sky’s north and south hemispheres, looking for exoplanets. The cameras would cover about 90 percent of the sky by the end of the mission. This makes TESS an ideal follow-up to the Kepler mission, which searches for exoplanets in a fixed area of the sky. Because the TESS mission surveys the entire sky, TESS is expected to find exoplanets much closer to Earth, making them easier for further study.

Stay updated on this planet-hunting mission HERE.

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