NASA’s Planet-Hunting TESS Spacecraft Is Now Operational

When TESS launched, NASA said it would need 60 days to test the probe before it could begin operating. However, that self-imposed deadline came and went. NASA said it would have TESS ready for action by the end of July, a little over 90 days after launch. It made the deadline, but only by a little.

TESS is a spiritual successor to Kepler, the space observatory responsible for detecting most of the currently known exoplanets. Like Kepler, TESS uses the transit method to detect exoplanets. It watches distant stars for small dips in brightness, which could indicate that a planet has passed in front of them. This data has to be validated by repeated observations, and a human usually needs to verify the discovery. Although, Google has been working with NASA on AI that can do most of the work.

TESS will be able to scan more of the sky than Kepler did, but it won’t look at objects as far away. Kepler had a maximum range of around 3,000 light years, but TESS will limit observations to a distance of 300 light years. NASA hopes TESS will be able to track down more super-Earth planets with its powerful array of cameras. These objects are more massive than Earth, but they’re not gas giants. It will be able to determine the mass, size, density, and orbital characteristics of any such planets.

About TESS mission:

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is a NASA mission that will look for planets orbiting the brightest stars in Earth’s sky. It was led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with seed funding from Google.

The mission will monitor at least 200,000 stars for signs of exoplanets, ranging from Earth-sized rocky worlds to huge gas giant planets. TESS, however, will focus on stars that are 30 to 100 times brighter than those Kepler examined. This will help astronomers better understand the structure of solar systems outside of our Earth, and provide insights into how our own solar system formed.

TESS will occupy a never-before-used orbit high above Earth. The elliptical orbit, called P/2, is exactly half of the moon’s orbital period; this means that TESS will orbit Earth every 13.7 days. Its closest point to Earth (67,000 miles or 108,000 kilometers) is about triple the distance of geosynchronous orbit, where most communications satellites operate.

It will use transit method to detect exoplanets. It watches distant stars for small dips in brightness, which can indicate that planet has passed in front of them. Repeated dips will indicate a planet passing in front of its star. This data has to be validated by repeated observations and verified by scientists.

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