NASA, SpaceX ready to launch planet hunter from Cape Canaveral

Posted April 18, 2018

The technical glitch has delayed the launch of new NASA space telescope, created to detect worlds beyond our solar system, for at least 48 hours. The mission will find exoplanets that periodically block part of the light from their host stars, events called transits.

The much-anticipated launch of NASA's newest exoplanet hunter has been rescheduled, the USA space agency announced in a brief news release.

The latest SpaceX launch is scheduled for today in Cape Canaveral, Florida, when a Falcon 9 rocket will blast off carrying a NASA satellite that will search for exoplanets outside our solar system.

NASA predicts that TESS could discover in excess of 50 Earth-examined planets and to 500 planets not as much as double the extent of the Earth.

Further follow-ups on potentially habitable planets could be done using more powerful telescopes, such as NASA's yet-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope, which is created to analyze alien atmospheres and help scientists look for potential signs of life.

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TESS will spend two years scanning almost the entire sky - a field of view that can encompass more than 20 million stars.

All of these factors should lead to a bounty of information returned to Earth, dependent on whether SpaceX can get the craft to its intended orbit.

The launch of TESS will be immediately beneficial to scientists down here on Earth, but the satellite will also lay the groundwork for future missions, most notably the European Space Agency's Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) spacecraft. Dr George Ricker of MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research serves as principal investigator for the mission.

Once deployed, TESS will observe stars in our solar neighborhood to find potential exoplanet candidates.

It will stare at stars, hoping to catch the dip in brightness as their faces are traversed by orbiting worlds.

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This meant a hard time for the astronomers studying the identified planet.

And because the planets circling them are bigger relative to the size of the star, and orbit at a closer distance, the slight disruptions of visible light from their transits are more pronounced, scientists said. Each orbit will take about 13.7 days.

TESS will create a catalog of thousands of exoplanet candidates using this transit photometry method. Other telescopes could then measure their mass to determine whether some of them are rocky, like our home planet.

After TESS launches, the team expects that the satellite will reestablish contact within the first week, during which it will turn on all its instruments and cameras.

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