TESS is created to find planets orbiting nearby stars spread across the sky, astrophysicist and pioneering exoplanet researcher Sara Seager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told Space.com.
The satellite, TESS, is the US space agency's newest planet-hunting spacecraft that will search for undiscovered planets outside of our solar system, known as exoplanets. Of these, some 300 are expected to be Earth-sized and super-Earth-sized exoplanets, which are worlds no larger than twice the size of Earth.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: And that is very unsatisfying because after all, what scientists really want to do is find another planet like our own, one that some form of life could call home.
NASA is due to launch this Monday its new space telescope that will go continue the search for terrestrial planets likely, perhaps, to house life. A science team devoted to TESS at MIT aims to measure the masses of at least 50 small exoplanets that have a radius of less than four times that of Earth - an ideal dimension that could suggest habitability.
While Kepler embarked on a similar mission, advances in technology mean that TESS should be able to catalog thousands of these exoplanets. This will open the way to the even larger American space telescope, James Webb, which will follow in 2020. NASA's new exoplanet hunter will train its sights on nearer, brighter stars than its predecessors did. "TESS will find the most promising exoplanets orbiting relatively nearby stars, giving future researchers a rich set of new targets for more comprehensive follow-up studies, including the potential to assess their capacity to harbour life", states NASA describing its main objective.
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Life might be out there, whether microbial or more advanced, and scientists say Tess and later missions will help answer the age-old question of whether we're alone.
"TESS is helping us explore our place in the universe", said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters. Other telescopes on the ground will have to make further observations, principally using what's known as the radial velocity method, which measures the degree of gravitational wobble a planet causes in its star.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is determined to launch crewed spaceflights to the International Space Station from the U.S and for this reason, NASA has been looking for private commercial space launch companies to take over the launch of crewed spaceflights. "We're going to be able study individual planets and start talking about the differences between planets". That yields information about a planet's density and composition, as opposed to its diameter. "Oxygen is our best biosignature gas on Earth", Seager said, so we're looking for what we know.
Ground-based telescopes already in operation will add the planet's mass, which in turn lets scientists calculate how dense it is.