The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has found two planets in five months on its hunt for worlds similar to our own, reported Reuters.
The satellite launched in April, 2018, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Costing about $337 million, TESS has been programmed for a two-year mission to find exoplanets, or planets outside of our solar system.
The first planet to be found 60 light-years away was named Pi Mensae C, a “super-earth” orbiting alongside a gas giant compared to Jupiter. The newly revealed planet was dubbed LHS 3844 B, according to Reuters. Both were named by MIT scientists analyzing TESS’s images.
While both of the planets TESS found were too hot to support life, NASA scientists still have hope.
“We will have to wait and see what else TESS discovers. We do know that planets are out there, littering the night sky, just waiting to be found,” said Sara Seager, the TESS Deputy Science Director.
Distant planets are often hard to track due to the brightness of stars around them. TESS is specifically designed to find stars that occasionally “blink,” or dim due to planets passing by in front of them. It utilizes a detection method called transit photometry using four specially developed cameras.
This hardware also allows examination of dwarf stars, the most common star in our galaxy. Due to their smaller size and shorter orbit period, planets circling such a star have a higher chance of being found.
So far, TESS has identified 73 stars with the right planetary candidates and is expected to find up to 10,000 exoplanets, reported the New York Times.
Fitted with solar panels for power, TESS spends about a month photographing a single area of the sky. This allows it to capture the majority of the northern hemisphere in a year. It will then move on to the southern hemisphere. Due to the amount of images captured in the satellite, it revolves between the moon and Earth to send data back and free up space.
TESS is the newest satellite in a long line of exploratory missions starting with the Kepler Spacecraft, active from 2009 to 2013. For years after, scientists analyzed the data and found Kepler discovered a total of 2,512 exoplanets. This led astronomers to believe there may be billions more planets in the Milky Way galaxy.
NASA estimates TESS will find three to four times as many planets as Kepler.
The hunt for rocky worlds, such as Earth, that are more likely to be habitable has been an ongoing mission in space research for decades.
The next generation of satellite launches is expected to examine planets flagged by TESS in-depth, potentially by sending probes closer to the area.