Launch delay for Nasa's planet-hunting spacecraft

Launch delay for Nasa's planet-hunting spacecraft

NASA's latest planet hunting satellite TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) was scheduled to be launched into space by SpaceX this evening at 22:32 UTC, Monday 16 April.

The Tess mission will go up on a Falcon rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida and survey almost the entire sky over the course of the next two years. Of these, some 300 are expected to be Earth-sized and super-Earth-sized exoplanets, which are worlds no larger than twice the size of Earth. Powerful cameras on TESS will monitor each section for at least 27 days at a time, looking at the brightest stars. From Earth, the moon occupies half a degree, which is less than 1/9,000th the size of the TESS tiles.

The two-year, $337 million TESS mission is created to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which has discovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented during the past 20 years and is running out of fuel. The mission also said to discover about 200,000 exoplanets in the space within a time period of two years.

Like Kepler, TESS will use a detection method called transit photometry, which looks for periodic, repetitive dips in the visible light from stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them.

This meant a hard time for the astronomers studying the identified planet. "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".

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Unlike Kepler, which peered deep into a narrow stretch of sky to find faraway planets around stars like the sun, TESS's survey will be "wide and shallow", Ricker explained.

That makes them better suited for sensitive follow-up analysis of exoplanet candidates TESS locates.

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 - all clues to habitability.

Scientists at MIT planned the mission say they could discover thousands of new worlds within 24 months - including 50 Earth-size planets that might be habitable to aliens.

TESS team partners include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center, MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, Orbital ATK, Nasa's Ames Research Center, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

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