NASA's TESS begins hunt for planets in other solar systems

NASA's TESS begins hunt for planets in other solar systems

TESS is the latest weapon in NASA's arsenal that is built specifically to search for planets outside of our own Solar System, and it's an incredibly powerful device.

"I'm thrilled that our new planet hunter mission is ready to start scouring our solar system's neighborhood for new worlds", said NASA Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz. Like Kepler, TESS will look for tiny dips in the brightness of individual stars caused by a planet passing between its star and the telescope in its orbit. "With possibly more planets than stars in our universe, I look forward to the unusual, fantastic worlds we're bound to discover".

But whereas Kepler was limited to poring over a small patch of sky during its primary mission, TESS will study nearly all of the sky in its two planned years of observations.

TESS will be looking at each observation sector for at least a period of 27 days, and then it will rotate on to the next sector.

TESS is now busy searching for exoplanets outside our solar system, and the first data that it obtains will be transmitted back to Earth in August. The first scientific data from the telescope will pass in August and will continue to contact Earth for data transmission every 13.5 days when the machine will be closer to fly to the Ground. Using this method TESS might find thousands of new planets that we don't know of, some of which are predicted to support life.

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According to NASA, TESS will focus on nearby, bright planets that experience occasional drops in brightness, which researchers call transits.

TESS is expected to reveal at least 50 Earth-sized exoplanets by monitoring nearly the entire sky during the two-year survey. The mission isled and operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Over the course of the mission the satellite will study 85 per cent of the sky- an area 350 times greater than what NASA's Kepler mission first observed-making it the first exoplanet mission to survey almost the entire sky. The Kepler space telescope discovered over 2,000 confirmed exoplanets since its launch in 2009.

The hunt for alien worlds gets underway as NASA's much-awaited TESS spacecraft officially begins its science operations on Wednesday, July 25.

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