NASA’s TESS Satellite Has Officially Started Its Exciting New Planet Hunter Mission

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On July 25, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) officially began its science operation with the exciting goal of seeking out new exoplanets in its wake. The first data that it collects will be transmitted straight back to Earth when August rolls around and will continue every 13.5 days afterward.

As Phys.org report, once the first series of data rolls around, the science team working with TESS will immediately begin analyzing it to search for new planets, according to Paul Hertz, who works as NASA’s Astrophysics division director in Headquarters, Washington.

“I’m thrilled that our new planet hunter mission is ready to start scouring our solar system’s neighborhood for new worlds. Now that we know there are more planets than stars in our universe, I look forward to the strange, fantastic worlds we’re bound to discover.”

Out of the many satellites that have been used by NASA, TESS is the latest one that is searching for exoplanets outside our solar system. Over the course of the next two years, this important satellite will be closely observing several hundred thousand bright stars to learn whether their light dips from time to time, which is something that could indicate the presence of a planet moving in front of its parent star, a process referred to as transits.

During the next couple of years, scientists believe that TESS should be able to easily locate thousands of these exoplanets in transit, with some of them capable of harboring life of some kind. Using this transit method has already proven to be quite successful as was shown by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, which was able to locate 3,750 of these exoplanets.

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NASA’s TESS satellite is being operated by scientists who work at MIT, while scientists who work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center are managing this large project. In terms of participation, there are currently over a dozen observatories and universities who are also keeping close tabs on the data obtained by TESS.

On April 18, TESS was first shot into Earth orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and commissioning checks were taking place up until fairly recently, as NASA noted in an update on June 11, according to Space.

“The TESS team has reported that the spacecraft and cameras are in good health, and the spacecraft has successfully reached its final science orbit. The team continues to conduct tests in order to optimize spacecraft performance, with a goal of beginning science at the end of July.”

Because NASA’s TESS satellite will be studying stars that are relatively close when exoplanets are discovered their atmosphere will then be studied in detail by other useful tools like the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be launched in just two more years.