Friday, 19 Oct 2018

VIDEO. Relive the successful launch of the TESS satellite, the hunter of exoplanets

A Falcon 9 rocket of the company SpaceX flew Wednesday, April 18, 2018 to send in space a new space telescope, called Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which will be responsible for expanding the catalog of exoplanet s already discovered. TESS left Cape Canaveral at 23:51 GMT, on schedule, to begin a two-year mission. The machine aims to continue the work initiated by its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which spotted most of the 3,500 exoplanets listed since the first discoveries in 1995.

Two months to reach his position

NASA waits for TESS that it detects thousands of other exoplanets , maybe hundreds of them having a size close to the Earth, or at least no more than twice that of our planet. Such planets are said to have the greatest chance of having telluric surfaces or oceans, as opposed to gaseous giants like Jupiter or Neptune. It will take the new telescope around 60 days to reach its highly elliptical orbit, which will see TESS oscillate between the Earth and the Moon. Kepler broke down in 2013, after four years of operation, experiencing a malfunction of a mechanism that allowed him to point in a given direction of the sky. And even though scientists have found ways to keep it going, it’s almost out of fuel.

The most promising planets that will be discovered by TESS, those that are rocky and evolve in the livability zone of their system will be selected for further study by the James Webb Telescope. The machine that will succeed Hubble will finally be launched in 2020 and will have a sensitivity one hundred times greater than that of its predecessor. It will be able to examine their atmosphere and identify elements that could constitute the signature of a biological activity. Scientists believe that this couple could be at the origin of the first identification of a life elsewhere than on Earth.

In search of new lands

The mission of TESS will be to search for exoplanets orbiting around the brightest stars and closest to the Sun. He will use the transit method which consists in observing the tiny drops in luminosity caused by the passage of a star in front of its star host to identify them. TESS will have to scrutinize no less than 200,000 stars during its two-year mission. The telescope will examine the entire celestial vault by dividing it into 26 different sectors. The cameras of the craft will observe each sector for at least 27 days, scrutinizing the brightest stars at a rate of one every two minutes. According to NASA, TESS will be able to discover 20,000 exoplanets, about fifty of the size of the Earth and nearly 500 which would be twice as large as our planet.

When a planet passes in front of its star host, it hides part of its light. Credit: Nasa TV

One could even find planets in the orbit of stars that can be seen with the naked eye “, said Sunday, April 15, 2018 to the press Elisa Quintana, researcher on the TESS program.” In the next few years, we can probably go out and point a star knowing that it has a planet “A few decades ago, the idea of ​​finding habitable planets was pure fantasy,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division. Humans have always wondered if we were alone in the universe, and until 25 years ago the only planets we knew were the eight of our solar system “, said Mr Hertz on the eve of the launch of TESS.” But since then we have found thousands of planets orbiting other stars, and we think that all stars in our galaxy must have their own family of planets The Kepler mission has already uncovered 2,300 new exoplanets confirmed by other telescopes, and TESS will screen an area 350 times larger.

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