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NASA's TESS Satellite Takes Off to Search for Alien Life

NASA's TESS Satellite Takes Off to Search for Alien Life

TESS, or the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, hitched a ride into space today atop SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, and is en route to its orbit, which stretches all the way to the moon.

SpaceX has successfully launched the Falcon 9 rocket, which carries NASA's TESS planet-hunter spacecraft, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Wednesday, following a delay due to problems with the guidance-navigation control system.

At 11.51pm United Kingdom time yesterday, Musk's SpaceX firm sent one of its Falcon 9 rockets into orbit carrying Nasa's new satellite-telescope, Reuters reports.

MIT co-worker Jennifer Burt explained, "Over those first two years, which is the nominal mission for Tess, we're expecting to add thousands of planets; something like 2,000-3,000 planets that are certainly below the size of Jupiter, and a lot of them below the size of Neptune".

The satellite will scan 85% of the skies for planets beyond the solar system, known as exoplanets, and can collect 27 gigabytes of data per day.

The brightness of these target stars will allow astronomers to use spectroscopy, the study of the absorption and emission of light, to determine a planet's mass, density and atmospheric composition. This probe will replace the Kepler telescope, which has run out of fuel.

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It has been designed as a successor to the Kepler space observatory.

In a pre-launch briefing on Sunday, George Ricker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told the media: 'TESS is going to dramatically increase the number of planets that we have to study'.

"It's going to more than double the number that have been seen and detected by Kepler", the scientist added. We just had a ideal countdown and flawless launch of the TESS mission. "But it's not just quantity; it's quality as well - because the planets we do find will be bright enough and close enough to Earth that we really can do follow-up measurements with them".

More than 78% of the around 3,700 exoplanets that we have discovered have been found by using this method, according to NASA.

Basically, when a planet crosses in front of its star it causes a periodic change in the star's brightness, and this is picked up by the satellite. "It's the beginning of a new era of exoplanet research", said Dr. Stephen Rinehart, TESS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

TESS is basically the size of a washing machine, and the huge undertaking is relatively low-cost at $US337 million.


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