Space hunter: Scientists pin alien exoplanet hopes to NASA’s latest sky scanner (VIDEO)
Mankind’s hunt for alien life and potentially habitable planets continues Monday, when a new rocket will push through the Earth’s atmosphere carrying precious NASA cargo.
Instead of the regular care packages usually sent to NASA astronauts on the International Space Station, SpaceX hopes to fire an exoplanet satellite known as TESS into the great expanse. As it stands, US Air Force meteorologists predict an 80-percent chance for favourable liftoff weather.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), the heir to NASA’s Kepler exoplanet mission throne, is set to orbit Earth while pointing it’s viewfinders out to space. It’s thought the satellite will pull back the mystery surrounding thousands of potentially life-sustaining exoplanets, some of which could be colonized in the future or contain astonishing alien life.
The hardware, setting out on a two-year mission from Cape Canaveral in Florida this Monday, is equipped with four wide angle lenses expected to survey around 85 percent of the entire sky.
What that means is that while it orbits Earth, it has an incredible field of vision, split into 26 sectors between the north and south celestial skies. Much like NASA’s Kepler space observatory, TESS will use its high-spec tech to pinpoint undiscovered planets.
It does this by analysing the brightness of transit or moving stars. For example, if a planet passes in front of a star, TESS will be able to measure a dip in luminosity and then determine whether a previously unknown world is out there. More than 500,000 stars will come under its gaze during its two-year lifespan.
During its nearly ten-year term in space, the Kepler mission confirmed more than 2,600 exoplanets, many of them thousands of light years away.
NASA Astrophysics director Paul Hertz has said TESS will up the ante for planet research once it reaches orbit.
“We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars,” he said.
“TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds whose properties can be probed by NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and other missions,” he added.
“One of the biggest questions in exoplanet exploration is: If an astronomer finds a planet in a star’s habitable zone, will it be interesting from a biologist’s point of view?” said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“We expect TESS will discover a number of planets whose atmospheric compositions, which hold potential clues to the presence of life, could be precisely measured by future observers.”
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