NASA Launches Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite
At 6:15 pm, on April 18, 2018, NASA launched a Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Launching a satellite is nothing new for NASA; but what makes TESS an exception is the fact that it is its most advanced satellite. Its mission: to discover Earth-resembling, habitable exoplanets. NASA’s TESS is the significant step in the fast-paced race to find a living area for humans, as global warming is a very real concern and population rapidly increases.
Exoplanets are bodies in space that revolve around bright stars, similar to the manner in which Earth orbits the Sun. Congruous to the planets in our solar system, exoplanets appear in various shapes and forms; some are giant gas giants like Jupiter, and some are smaller and rocky like the Earth. Throughout history, scientists have investigated bodies in outer space with a goal to detect the ideal temperature, atmosphere, and surroundings that allow life to thrive. The exoplanets being discovered by satellites such as TESS are carefully studied in the hopes of discovering Earth-like planets that may act as habitats for humans in the future.
According to the scientists at NASA, TESS is predicted to survey around 200,000 of some of the most luminous stars in the universe for a period of 2 years. Subsequently, TESS will catalog the exoplanet candidates using the transit photometry method. The transit photometry method is the process by which a satellite monitors the brightness of a star over a period of time, and when the star dulls at regular intervals, it can be concluded that a planet is revolving around the star. Using the list of possible habitable planets, scientists will make use of powerful telescopes such as the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope that is scheduled to launch in 2020, in order to be able to perform a series of follow-up observations to determine whether the planets are indeed sustainable.
The Kepler Mission (NASA’s earlier tool to discover exoplanets) used the transit method, which is the process of detecting tiny dots that appear when a planet passes the sun to locate terrestrial planets that may be habitable. Even though TESS also applies the transit method to identify the exoplanets, it can be predicted to be much more efficient since it scans a larger area, and looks for brighter stars than its predecessor. While TESS was on the mission to discover exoplanets, Kepler took part in an alternate mission named K2. In addition to detecting alien planets, Kepler observed passing comets, asteroids, supernovas and other objects in space, allowing scientists to conduct more astrophysics research along with the exoplanet science.
SpaceX, a space research company that designs and manufactures rockets, used a Falcon 9 rocket to launch TESS. The launch itself is said to be rather uneventful as no mishaps had taken place, and TESS was launched exactly during the time that was scheduled. Upon its release, TESS traveled along Earth’s orbit, unlike the sun, as Kepler had done before. TESS’s launch not only paved way for future advancements for NASA, but it was a major breakthrough for SpaceX too. Falcon 9’s smooth landing onto a SpaceX drone ship motivated them to build additional rockets that are reusable. This method of launching satellites in reusable rockets will revolutionize spaceflight according to the CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk.
The TESS project is undoubtedly a major breakthrough in the field of aeronautical engineering for NASA, SpaceX, and other research institutions around the world that hope to discover life outside of our planet Earth. TESS will surely deliver groundbreaking information regarding various objects in the immense and unexplored outer space.
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