Friday, 20 September, 2019

SpaceX to Launch NASA's Exoplanet-Hunting Spacecraft Today

SpaceX to Launch NASA's Exoplanet-Hunting Spacecraft Today SpaceX to Launch NASA's Exoplanet-Hunting Spacecraft Today
Sandra Phillips | 18 April, 2018, 22:52

If everything goes smoothly today, TESS will launch on a two-year tour to survey the sky, breaking it into 26 sections, each 24 degrees by 96 degrees across, specifically looking for exoplanets that periodically block part of the light from their host stars.

The mission builds on the legacy of NASA's Kepler space telescope, which examined a smaller area of the sky and confirmed the presence of thousands of planets and, by extension, hundreds of billions across the Milky Way. "Maybe we'll find something out there that nobody expected and will leave people scratching their heads".

Astronomers expect to identify more than 1,500 exoplanet candidates, including about 500 worlds that range from less than Earth's width to twice its width ("Super Earths").

Like Kepler, TESS will use a detection method called transit photometry, which looks for periodic, repetitive dips in the visible light of stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them.

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Running two days late because of an unexplained guidance, navigation and control issue, the Falcon 9 was poised for liftoff from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 6:51 p.m. EDT (GMT-4), the opening of a 30-second window.

The California-based company has launched cargo missions and other payloads for NASA before, but TESS marks the first under a special certification obtained by SpaceX to carry the space agency's highest-priority science instruments. "It's the beginning of a new era of exoplanet research".

It maintained the TESS spacecraft was "in excellent health" and ready for launch. "TESS is basically the discoverer, it's going to find the really exciting planets that we can then follow up with powerful telescopes". Scientists said they hope TESS will ultimately help catalog at least 100 more rocky exoplanets for further study in what has become one of astronomy's newest fields of exploration.

For more about TESS, check out our earlier story and the mission website.

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