NASA’s TESS successfully finishes its first year and is now halfway through its primary mission. It has found 21 new worlds already.
NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is designed to hunt alien worlds. The telescope has gathered enough data for astronomers to identify 21 new worlds already. But more than 850 others are awaiting confirmation.
The mission has completed its first year of survey gathering data from events occurring in the southern sky. So it has now turned to the northern hemisphere.
“The pace and productivity of TESS in its first year of operations has far exceeded our most optimistic hopes for the mission,” said George Ricker, TESS’s principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
“In addition to finding a diverse set of exoplanets, TESS has discovered a treasure trove of astrophysical phenomena, including thousands of violently variable stellar objects.”
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TESS will complete the northern section in 2020. When that happens the mission will have mapped over three-quarters of the sky.
However, NASA announced earlier this month that it has extended the TESS mission through 2022.
TESS uses four large cameras to watch a 24-by-96-degree section of the sky for 27 days at a time. It concentrates on stars closer than 300 light-years from our solar system. To find planets the mission uses the transit method which is based on the observation of a star’s small drop in brightness that occurs when a planet passes in front of its star.
Besides planets, the mission has also identified supernovae, asteroids, comets and even exocomets which are comets outside our solar system.
“Kepler discovered the amazing result that, on average, every star system has a planet or planets around it,” said Padi Boyd, TESS project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “TESS takes the next step. If planets are everywhere, let’s find those orbiting bright, nearby stars because they’ll be the ones we can now follow up with existing ground and space-based telescopes, and the next generation of instruments for decades to come.”