NASA hopes to find life beyond our Solar System. Thanks to TESS mission

NASA hopes to find life beyond our Solar System. Thanks to TESS mission

NASA wants to find life outside our solar system and the launch of TESS mission is the proof.

Search for alien life received a massive boost as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) was launched into orbit by NASA on 18th April. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was used to send it to space. It is a space telescope that is designed to look for exoplanets by making use of the transit method. This entire mission is led by the Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Kavli Foundation supported the cause alongside MIT. After exactly 49 minutes of launch, the satellite separated itself from the rocket. Robert Lockwood, the Program Manager of TESS spacecraft for Orbital ATK, told the world about that in his prelaunch press conference as he said,

When you come off the top of the rocket, all the fun for us spacecraft folks begins.”

NASA is hopeful that this mission will provide thousands of new candidates where life could exist as it will cover 400 times more area than the Kepler mission. The primary mission of this satellite, which will cost approximately $337 million in a span of two years, involves scanning of nearly 200,000 brightest stars that are dimmed when exoplanets cross their faces. Only 3800 exoplanets are known at the time of its launch and researchers expect that this mission will give us at least 20,000 exoplanets.

Scientists will use different technologies to deduce whether extraterrestrial life is present on them or not. Shortlisting will be done on this basis and we will get a list of places which could harbor life. The worlds which are one to two times the size of Earth will be used as primary targets for further observations.

TESS will build on the work that is done by Kepler Space Telescope. Most of the exoplanets known to mankind have come through it in the last 20 years but its supply of fuel is about to end and that’s the reason why TESS is launched into space. A lot of wide-field cameras are fit in it that will examine 85% of the sky. Size, mass, and orbit of rocky planets present in the habitable zones of their hosting stars will be observed through this satellite.

All the previous telescopes including James Webb Space Telescope have managed to detect only those exoplanets that are massive in size. TESS has the ability to examine small planets due to its advanced system and this will prove extremely beneficial in studying the transiting exoplanets of the nearest stars. Astronomers hope to get 100 rocky exoplanets from TESS mission.

The time taken by TESS to complete two orbits around Earth is equal to the time Moon takes to complete one cycle.

TESS will take approximately two months to reach its highly elliptical orbit. Its apogee will be at the distance of the Moon while it will have a perigee of 108,000 kilometers above the geosynchronous satellites. It will loop between Earth and the moon every two and a half weeks and has a 2:1 resonance with the Moon. Scientists are hopeful that this orbit will stay as it is for at least 10 years. The detection method incorporated in TESS is similar to what we had in Kepler. The name of that phenomenon is ‘Transit Photometry’ and it periodically checks for repetitive dips in the visible light that is being emitted from stars as planets are passing or transiting in front of them.

What makes TESS better than the Kepler is that it can scan broader regions of the sky. Kepler was limited to a fraction of the sky. The exoplanets selected by TESS will be more suitable for in-depth analysis as they are brighter and can be observed keenly from the Earth. This mission will focus mainly on stars known as Red Dwarfs. They are cooler, smaller and have lived much more than our Sun. There are greater chances of getting Earth-like planets around these stars and that’s the reason they are potentially the most fertile grounds for finding alien life. The size of the planets revolving around such stars is more than the star itself which enhance the disruptions of visible light coming from them. TESS will not find life beyond Earth on its own but it will provide a strong base for more powerful telescopes to build on.

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