On Monday, April 16, 2018, NASA will launch their new TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey) satellite to search for alien planets orbiting distant stars. The satellite will be traveling on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and the new launch will mark yet another venture between NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
While the first confirmed detection of exoplanets outside our solar system was not until 1992, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has now detected 2,300 of these planets. However, in March it was reported by NASA that the Kepler spacecraft was running extremely low on fuel and would be running out completely within just a few months. This makes the launch in two days of the TESS satellite critical if we are to continue hunting for alien planets, according to CNet.
Once launched, the new TESS satellite will be studied closely by NASA to keep a close eye on 200,000 stars. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite features four wide-field cameras that will be able to monitor any changes in the brightness of these stars, however small, that would occur by an orbiting planet.
As MIT professor, Sara Seager, explained that NASA’s new satellite will be the perfect tool for discovering which new exoplanets we should be studying next.
“TESS is going to essentially provide the catalog, like the phone book, if you will, of all the best planets for following up, for looking at their atmospheres and studying more about them.”
NASA’s #TESS satellite is due to launch next week, ushering in a new era of exoplanet hunting.@govertschilling looks forward to the launch, and reveals what we can expect from TESS over the coming years.https://t.co/FnGwsuniq2pic.twitter.com/j2vMIqc9vp
— Sky at Night Mag (@skyatnightmag) April 14, 2018
Once NASA’s TESS satellite does locate more of these exoplanets, the real fun begins. In 2020, the James Webb Space Telescope will officially be launched, and this telescope will be utilized to allow scientists to search for potential life on these distant exoplanets.
It is hoped that TESS will be able to locate other planets that resemble Earth in important ways, and Seager believes we have a fairly good chance of finding these planets with the new satellite.
“To me, TESS represents the very first opportunity to really, truly make progress in this area of trying to find signs of life on other worlds. It really has a chance to find a rocky planet that’s the right distance from its star, the right temperature to have life on its surface. Tess will find a pool of planets like that.”
In the words of NASA’s Paul Hertz, when it comes to our search for alien planets, the net will increase greatly after the launch of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.
“We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars. TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds.”
The @NASA_TESS satellite will stare for a month at a time at slices of the sky looking for the telltale dimming of planets passing in front of their stars. Over two years, it will take in almost the whole sky! https://t.co/90Sj7zTJH2pic.twitter.com/RgdTrSmgEu
— NASA Goddard (@NASAGoddard) April 10, 2018
With Monday’s launch by NASA and SpaceX of the new TESS satellite, many new worlds may soon be opening up as scientists boldly begin the next step in the search for exoplanets and alien life.