TESS has Already Found Two Candidate Planets

TESS has Already Found Two Candidate Planets

The planet-hunting space telescope of NASA is off to a great start.

Discovering new planets has always been an interesting prospect of many. The very thought of it is exciting and makes one curious. That’s the reason why a lot of space agencies are trying their best to locate a habitable exoplanet. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) of NASA, which was launched earlier this year has discovered two planets within two months of its deployment. A Falcon 9 rocket was used to deploy this revolutionary satellite for a two-year mission. The candidate planets discovered by TESS include Pi Mensae c and LHS 3844 b. They are at a distance of 60 and 49 light-years from Earth, respectively. The term ‘Candidate Planet’ is associated with them because they are yet to be validated.

The planets appear to be rocky and quite like Earth, but both are too close to their stars for any liquid water to be present. A closer look and a deeper analysis of Pi Mensae c shows it to have a rocky iron core and may contain materials such as Hydrogen, Helium, and Methane. As of now, TESS requires more time to carry out further investigation, so the planet can be analyzed further. On the other hand, LHS 3844 b is just 1.3 times the size of Earth and is extremely close to its star and has an orbit of just 11 hours. Since the planet is in proximity to its star, it is highly unlikely that it will have any atmosphere because solar radiations are burning it all the time.

Kepler Space Telescope was launched a while before TESS and so far, it has discovered over 2500 planets. It is about to run out of fuel and TESS will take its place until the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2021. TESS is observing stars that are considerably brighter and closer (about 30 to 300 light years). Hence, the planets discovered by TESS are more likely to be better candidates for further research. The amazing satellite of NASA is equipped with four 16.8 megapixels cameras which cover a total of 96 degrees at a time. The observational area changes every 27 days till a 360-degree image is completed.

TESS has a planned two-year mission during which it will monitor 85% of the sky and possibly scan over half a million stars. The working mechanism of TESS works is quite simple: It detects drops in light intensity in front of the star in a similar way if you were to hold the tip of a pen in front of a light bulb. The light would dim a little and you will be able to clearly see the transition of light. However, only 15-20% of these light ‘fluctuations’ are actually planets. It is quite possible that these supposed planets turn out to be stars or ‘sunspots’ on the surface of the star. The initial information about these two planets was provided to the astronomers on 5th September. George Ricker, the Lead Investigator of the mission, talked about that and said,

“We make alerts available to astronomers worldwide, and we continue to do that because there are a lot of amateurs with superb instruments they can use for the initial parts of the screening.”

Due to the sheer amount of these candidate planets available for analysis, Ricker says it may take quite some time before all of them are analyzed, possibly years. NASA is searching for habitable planets like Earth in different parts of the universe. Although TESS is a successor to the Kepler mission, it monitors the entire sky and closer stars whereas Kepler only observes distant stars.

Scientists have high hopes for the TESS mission partly due to the fact it found two planets within the first sector and the onboard technology that TESS brings is superior to that of Kepler. According to NASA, TESS can cover an area that is 350 times greater than what Kepler could achieve. Moreover, TESS has triple the storage capacity of Kepler and has an efficient orbit trajectory and has enough fuel to carry out its tasks for at least a century. As TESS delves deeper into its mission, it seems as if the search for “Earth 2.0” may be successful sooner than expected.

Computer Scientist by qualification who loves to read, write, eat, and travel

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