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Tech & Science NASA's new planet-hunter to seek closer, Earth-like worlds

15:36  16 april  2018
15:36  16 april  2018 Source:   afp.com

NASA Is Launching Its Next Planet-Hunting Telescope

  NASA Is Launching Its Next Planet-Hunting Telescope Scientists are excited about the prospect the mission holds for new discoveries, but if you're just learning about the mission now, here's what you need to know.TESS is the successor to Kepler, which revolutionized exoplanet science and is responsible for spotting almost three quarters of the planets astronomers have identified to date. But Kepler will run out of fuel sometime in the next few months, so scientists have been working for years to make sure something would be ready to replace it.

This NASA handout artist's rendition shows the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a NASA Explorer mission launching in 2018 to study exoplanets, or planets orbiting stars outside our solar system © Provided by AFP This NASA handout artist's rendition shows the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a NASA Explorer mission launching in 2018 to study exoplanets, or planets orbiting stars outside our solar system NASA is poised to launch a $337 million washing machine-sized spacecraft that aims to vastly expand mankind's search for planets beyond our solar system, particularly closer, Earth-sized ones that might harbor life.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, is scheduled to launch Monday at 6:32 pm (2232 GMT) atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Three Vast 'Holes' Just Appeared on the Sun—and They're Bombarding Earth with Geomagnetic Storms

  Three Vast 'Holes' Just Appeared on the Sun—and They're Bombarding Earth with Geomagnetic Storms Coronal holes are gaps in the Sun's outermost atmosphere which are less dense and cooler than their surroundings. Magnetic field images released by the SDO show huge dark patches on the Sun’s surface, indicating their location. © Catalyst Images The sun shines down on a field The holes spew out charged particles which can affect animals and electronic systems on Earth, and cause auroras to appear at lower latitudes than normal if they interact with the magnetosphere—the region around our planet dominated by its magnetic field.

Its main goal over the next two years is to scan more than 200,000 of the brightest stars for signs of planets circling them and causing a dip in brightness known as a transit.

NASA predicts that TESS will discover 20,000 exoplanets -- or planets outside the solar system -- including more than 50 Earth-sized planets and up to 500 planets less than twice the size of Earth.

"They are going to be orbiting the nearest, brightest stars," Elisa Quintana, TESS scientist at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center, told reporters on Sunday.

"We might even find planets that orbit stars that we can even see with the naked eye," she added.

"So in the next few years we might even be able to walk outside and point at a star and know that it has a planet. This is the future."

Planets Orbiting Binary Stars Can Be Thrown Into Space

  Planets Orbiting Binary Stars Can Be Thrown Into Space If one planet gets thrown out, others in the neighborhood might go down with it, the study suggested.David Fleming, a student from University of Washington and the lead author of the study, posited the theory after taking a close look at short-term eclipsing binaries, or the system in which the orbital path of stars is so close to the line of sight, one star appears to cross the other’s path for a short while.

Follow-on to Kepler

TESS is designed as a follow-on to the US space agency's Kepler spacecraft, which was the first of its kind and launched in 2009. Now, the aging spacecraft is low on fuel and near the end of its life.

Kepler found a massive trove of exoplanets by focusing on one patch of sky, which contained about 150,000 stars like the Sun.

The Kepler mission found 2,300 confirmed exoplanets and nearly 4,500 candidates. But many were too distant and dim to study further.

TESS, with its four advanced cameras, will scan an area that is 350 times larger, comprising 85 percent of the sky in the first two years alone.

"By looking at such a large section of the sky –- this kind of stellar real estate -- we open up the ability to cherry-pick the best stars to do follow up science," said Jenn Burt, a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

"On average the stars that TESS finds observes be 30-100 times brighter and 10 times closer than the stars that Kepler focused on."

The Planet That Took Us Beyond the Solar System

  The Planet That Took Us Beyond the Solar System <p>An unusual discovery in the 1990s paved the way for space telescopes to spot thousands of exoplanets.</p>The discovery of 51 Pegasi b, as it was called, was just the beginning. The astronomy community was witnessing “A Parade of New Planets,” declared a headline in Scientific American in 1996. In the months since the exoplanet discovery had been announced, the publication reported, astronomers had reported finding at least four more planets.

Since TESS uses the same method as Kepler for finding potential planets, by tracking the dimming of light when a celestial body passes in front of a star, the next step is for ground-based and space telescopes to peer closer.

The Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space telescope, scheduled to launch in 2020, should be able to reveal more about planets' mass, density and the makeup of their atmosphere.

"TESS forms a bridge from what we have learned about exoplanets to date and where we are headed in the future," said Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center.

By focusing on planets dozens to hundreds of light-years way, TESS should be a stepping stone to future breakthroughs, he said.

"With the hope that someday, in the next decades, we will be able to identify the potential for life to exist outside the solar system."

Weather was expected to be 80 percent favorable for launch.

Gravity Could Trap Alien Civilizations on Super-Earths .
Stronger gravity requires stronger—and pricier—rockets to overcome. "On more massive planets, spaceflight would be exponentially more expensive," author Michael Hippke, an independent researcher based in Germany, told Space.com. "Such civilizations would not have satellite TV, a moon mission or a Hubble Space Telescope." Humans have been spacefaring beings for less than a century, and there's a good reason for that: rockets are a challenging technology.

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