The satellite's goal is to extend the successful mission of the Kepler Space Telescope by observing stars and monitoring them for temporary drops in brightness caused by planetary transits.
The satellite, developed by scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S., aims to discover thousands of nearby exoplanets, including at least 50 Earth-sized ones. This telescope should be ready for launch by the year's end. Kepler has found more than 5000 exoplanet candidates so far, and confirmed about half of them. Last year, the company had 18 launches; if today's goes as planned, it will have eight on the year, translating to a 2018 average of one launch every two weeks. Its observation area is 400 times larger than that of Kepler.
Illustration of what TESS might look like in orbit.
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Scientists expect that the TESS telescope will continue Kepler's work and discover thousands of other Earth-like and super-Earth-sized exoplanets.
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. TESS, like its predecessor Kepler, is to track down planets outside our solar system.
"The most interesting thing about these TESS discoveries is gonna be how close they are and the fact that their host stars are gonna be bright relative to those Kepler stars". Additional follow-up with ground- and space-based missions, including NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, will also allow astronomers to study the atmospheres of many of these planets.
The telescope was created by MIT University, which also has the scientific responsibility for the $ 337 million mission cost, headed by astrophysicist George Ricker, in collaboration with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. If we know their radii and we know their mass, then we can talk about their density and what their likely composition is. The TESS mission is expected to find planets ranging from small, rocky worlds to giant planets, showcasing the diversity of planets in the galaxy.
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There are many definitions of an Earth-like exoplanet. "We're on this scenic tour of the whole sky, and in some ways we have no idea what we will see". "Tess will tell us where and when to point", CHEOPS project scientist Kate Isaak says.
If it doesn't launch Wednesday, NASA still has a launch window for nearly every other day this week.
But the needle in the haystack, the Holy Grail, will be finding planets in what's called the Goldilocks zone, orbiting just far enough from their parent stars where it's not too hot or too cold but just right to possibly sustain life.
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