With the launch of TESS, NASA will boost its search for exoplanets

illustration of TESS telescpope

NASA is stepping up its search for planets outside our solar system. Its next exoplanet hunting telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is due to launch from Cape Canaveral on the evening of April 16.

Following the Kepler space telescope’s discovery of more than 5,000 possible exoplanets since 2009, TESS will continue the galactic census — flagging more planetary candidates for further study.

Astronomers expect TESS to find about 20,000 planets in its first two years in operation, focusing on nearby, bright stars that will be easy for other telescopes to investigate later. About 500 of those expected exoplanets would be less than twice the size of Earth — and therefore may be good places to look for life.

NASA’s next exoplanet hunting telescope, TESS

SMALL BUT MIGHTY NASA’s next exoplanet hunting telescope, TESS, is only 1.5 meters tall (shown here with engineers). Its size is partly due to the fact that it was designed to launch on NASA’s small Taurus rocket, but will instead launch on a larger SpaceX Falcon 9 on April 16.


The TESS mission is “a whole new opening for exoplanet studies,” MIT astronomer Sara Seager, TESS’ deputy science director, said during a news conference describing the upcoming launch.

TESS will be the first NASA science mission launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Once in orbit, the spacecraft will trace an unusual, elliptical path between Earth and the moon that will enable it to observe at least 85 percent of the sky — 350 times as much sky as Kepler saw.

Most of the planets found by Kepler orbit stars 1,000 light-years away or farther. TESS will focus on 200,000 stars that are a few hundred light-years away at most, and shine between 30 to 100 times brighter on average than Kepler’s.

The brighter the star, the easier it is to determine its planet’s characteristics, such as its mass and whether it has an atmosphere, Seager says. “Photons are our currency — the more, the better,” she says.

That follow-up will help TESS avoid some of Kepler’s pitfalls. Because Kepler’s stars were so far and so dim, some of its planet candidates were confirmed as actual planets only by statistics rather than by other telescopes. And not all those confirmations may stick. A recent paper posted at arXiv.org showed that Kepler 452b, an Earth-sized planet that orbits a sunlike star at the same distance Earth orbits the sun, may be a mirage (SN: 8/22/15, p. 16). Many of TESS’ planets won’t face the same uncertainty.

the TESS sattelite

COASTING IN SPACE The TESS satellite’s unusual 13.7-day orbit uses the moon’s gravity to stabilize it, so it needs little fuel. During the part of the orbit colored blue, TESS will observe the sky. During the part marked in orange, it will transmit data back to Earth. The gray ring marks the moon’s orbit.


But the way TESS will search for exoplanets is the same as Kepler: The satellite will watch stars for signs of dimming, which can indicate that a planet is transiting, or crossing in front of, the star. Measuring how much starlight is blocked can tell astronomers the size of the planet.

Once TESS finds a planet, astronomers will need more information to understand its qualities, such as whether it’s rocky or gassy (SN Online: 6/19/17). For that, other telescopes will follow up. Ground-based telescopes will measure the gravitational tug of a planet on its host star to learn the planet’s density, which is a clue to its composition. Astronomers plan to measure masses for at least 50 TESS planets that are smaller than Neptune in the hopes that many of them will have rocky, and therefore potentially habitable, surfaces.

Undiscovered country

Before TESS, most known planets were more than 1,000 light-years away, with a few closer than 30 light-years (a parsec is 3.26 light-years). TESS (orange circles) will fill in the gap. The size of the circles represents how easy the planets are to find.

graph showing where TESS will be able to detect planets

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, now scheduled to launch in 2020, will then check some of those planets for signs of life (SN: 4/30/16, p. 32).

“This is one of the major questions that TESS is intended to answer: Where will we be pointing Webb?” said the mission’s principal investigator, MIT astronomer George Ricker, at the press conference. Webb will peer at the starlight filtering through planetary atmospheres to try to detect molecules that could be produced by something living on the surface.

It will take a few months for TESS to swing into its regular orbit before it begins collecting data. At that point, it will be able to use the moon’s gravity to stabilize itself for decades in orbit without using extra fuel. The mission is set to last two years, but could continue taking data almost indefinitely.

“TESS is not going to be limited by any expendable or other aspects,” Ricker said. “It will be basically limited by how long NASA has the patience to fund the mission.”


NASA to launch sounding rocket which releases artificial clouds on June 4

NASA, sounding rocket, artificial clouds, space studies, visually track particle motion, vapour tracers

These clouds or vapour tracers allow scientists on the ground to visually track particle motions in space. (Image for representation, Source : NASA)

NASA on Saturday scrubbed the launch of a sounding rocket which will release blue-green and red artificial clouds. “Launch scrubbed because of boats in the impact area for the second stage motor. We will try again Sunday, June 4,” NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility announced on its Facebook page. The launch window is 4:26 to 4:41 a.m.EDT (1:56-2.11 p.m India time).

The launch of the Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket testing a new deployment system to support space studies was originally scheduled for May 31, but it was subsequently delayed. “Clear skies are required at one of the ground stations to view blue-green and red artificial clouds that will be produced as part of the test. These artificial clouds may be seen from New York to North Carolina,” NASA earlier said.

The rocket will eject 10 canisters about the size of a soft drink can between 10 to 20 kms from the rocket’s main payload, and these containers will release the vapour between 4 and 5.5 minutes after launch.These clouds or vapour tracers allow scientists on the ground to visually track particle motions in space.

Also Read: Mongolia to send its first satellite to space on June 4

The development of the multi-canister or ampule ejection system will allow scientists to gather information over a much larger area than previously allowed when deploying the vapour just from the main payload.Ground cameras will be stationed at Wallops and in Duck, North Carolina, to view the vapour tracers. “The vapour tracers are formed through the interaction of barium, strontium and cupric-oxide. The tracers will be released at altitudes 96 to 124 miles high and pose absolutely no hazard to residents along the mid-Atlantic coast,” NASA said

Sounding rockets take their name from the nautical term “to sound,” which means to take measurements. The flight of a sounding rocket is short-lived, and has a parabolic trajectory — the shape of a frown. The total flight time for the current mission is expected to be about eight minutes. The payload will land in the Atlantic Ocean about 90 miles from Wallops Island and will not be recovered.


Cassini’s First Dive Between Saturn and Its Rings Successful, Says NASA

Cassini's First Dive Between Saturn and Its Rings Successful, Says NASA

Cassini’s first-ever dive through the narrow gap between the planet Saturn and its rings on April 26 was successful and the spacecraft is now in the process of beaming back science and engineering data collected during its passage, NASA said on Thursday.

NASA’s Deep Space Network Goldstone Complex in California’s Mojave Desert acquired Cassini’s signal at 2:56am EDT (12:26pm IST) on Thursday and data began flowing at 3:01am EDT (12:31pm IST), the US Space agency said.

“I am delighted to report that Cassini shot through the gap just as we planned and has come out the other side in excellent shape,” said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Images captured by Cassini spacecraft during its first “Grand Finale” dive past the planet have also been published.

The unprocessed images show features in Saturn’s atmosphere from closer than ever before.

“In the grandest tradition of exploration, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare,” Jim Green, Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington said.

As it dived through the gap, Cassini came within about 3,000 kilometres of Saturn’s cloud tops and within about 300 kilometres of the innermost visible edge of the rings.

While mission managers were confident Cassini would pass through the gap successfully, they took extra precautions with this first dive, as the region had never been explored.

The gap between the rings and the top of Saturn’s atmosphere is about 2,000 kilometres wide.

The best models for the region suggested that if there were ring particles in the area where Cassini crossed the ring plane, they would be tiny, on the scale of smoke particles.

The spacecraft zipped through this region at speeds of about 124,000 kph relative to the planet, so small particles hitting a sensitive area could potentially have disabled the spacecraft.

As a protective measure, the spacecraft used its large, dish-shaped high-gain antenna as a shield, orienting it in the direction of oncoming ring particles.

Cassini’s next dive through the gap is scheduled for May 2.

Launched in 1997, Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004.

Following its last close flyby of the large moon Titan on April 21, Cassini began what mission planners are calling its “Grand Finale.”

During this final chapter, Cassini loops Saturn approximately once per week, making a total of 22 dives between the rings and the planet.

The spacecraft is on a trajectory that will eventually plunge it into Saturn’s atmosphere – and end Cassini’s mission – on September 15.




Narendra Modi Congratulates Nasa on Pluto assignment

Narendra Modi Congratulates Nasa on Pluto Mission

prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday congratulated Nasa for its success in area exploration as its spaceship sent facts and pics of Pluto.

“A landmark feat in space exploration as Nasa’s aptly named spaceship sends lower back facts &photographs of Pluto from nearly five billion kilometres away,” he tweeted.

“Congratulations to @Nasa group. Their efforts will offer wealthy insights to enhance our knowledge of oursolar machine,” Modi added.

He turned into commenting on Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft getting humanity’s first up-close have a look at Pluto.

(additionally see: Nasa’s New Horizons Probe unearths Pluto is larger Than anticipated)

The signal received back domestic within the US confirms the probe has sailed bypass its targetcorrectly and it’s miles now set to transmit a wealth of statisticsincluding numerous new highdecision pix from Pluto.

Pluto is the first Kuiper Belt item visited through a mission from Earth.

Nasa on Wednesday launched the first near-up images of Pluto from Nasa’s New Horizon’s spacecraft after its ancient of flyby of the dwarf planet, displaying icy mountain tiers.

The mountains’ elevation reaches 11,000 toes (three,400 metres), the united states area company said, orabout as excessive as the Rocky Mountains.

Scientists have been additionally taken aback to see a near-up phase of Pluto that showed no sign of craters, regardless of its home inside the Kuiper Belt, the location beyond Neptune where cosmic debrisis continuously pelting Pluto and its 5 moons.

Nasa said the findings recommend that Pluto is geologically energetic, and carries parts that are youthfulin astronomical phrases, perhaps less than 100 million years old, a small fraction of the 4.five billion yr age of the solar gadget.

down load the devices 360 app for Android and iOS to live updated with the state-of-the-art techinformation, product reviews, and special offers on the popular mobiles.

Tags: India, Narendra Modi, Nasa, New Horizon, Pluto, technology