NASA's new satellite a boost for UNSW starquake research

TESS will begin a two-year planet hunting mission, searching our solar-system for other alien worlds.

"We are thrilled TESS is on its way to help us discover worlds we have yet to imagine, worlds that could possibly be habitable, or harbour life", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

The satellite has launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, with the goal of compiling a catalogue of potential planets that other telescopes can then focus in on for more detailed analysis.

The spent first stage barreled back through the atmosphere to make a landing on the barge Of Course I Still Love You, which is stationed in the Atlantic. Kepler was launched by NASA during the year 2009 and till now it has spotted 2,650 confirmed exoplanets which are about 70 percent of all the worlds that are known beyond our solar system. The Tess satellite, meanwhile, kept heading toward orbit with help from the Falcon rocket's second stage.

For the first 60 days, TESS will establish its orbit and test its instruments before commencing the mission. Unlike Tess, Kepler could only scour a sliver of the sky.

It's even possible that TESS could find world that might be able to host life.

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The scientists behind this mission are of the popular belief that the key factor in this field will be the successor to Hubble which is due to be in orbit by 2020. "The coverage of the TESS cameras is unprecedented in terms of the amount of sky that they can actually see at any given time", said TESS principal investigator George Ricker of MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

"TESS is opening a door for a whole new kind of study", said Stephen Rinehart, TESS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Scientists expect Tess to identify thousands of planets in our cosmic backyard.

TESS will use the "transit method", like the Kepler mission before it did, staring intently at the stars in a given section, watching for a passing (transiting) planet. Those camera systems will look for minute, periodic dips in brightness of those stars caused when orbiting plans pass in front of, or transit, the stars.

"One of the many incredible things that Kepler told us is that planets are everywhere and there are all kinds of planets out there", said Dr Patricia "Padi" Boyd, director of the TESS guest investigator programme at Nasa's Goddard Spaceflight Centre.

"The sky will become more attractive, will become more awesome", NASA's top science administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said. Tess will be looking at stars that are between 30 and 300 light years away and up to 100 times brighter than what Kepler was staring at.

  • Toni Ryan