NASA is due to launch this Monday its new space telescope that will go continue the search for terrestrial planets likely, perhaps, to house life. The satellite named Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will be launched on board on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
The mission of TESS will be to scan more than 200,000 of the brightest stars, beyond our solar system, in search of exoplanets in their orbit. It costs $ 337 million.
TESS will replace Kepler, the first such telescope launched in 2009 by the US Space Agency. It uses the method of transits *, detecting planets as they pass in front of their star, whose light they momentarily dim. This allows among other things to deduce size, mass and orbit. According to NASA, TESS will be able to discover 20,000 exoplanets, about fifty of the size of the Earth and nearly 500 which would be twice as large as our planet.
The Kepler mission has already uncovered 2,300 new exoplanets confirmed by other telescopes. TESS will screen an area 350 times larger. The researchers believe that TESS could discover planets orbiting the stars that illuminate our earthly sky.
“A few decades ago, the idea of finding habitable planets was a pure fantasy,” says Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division. “Humans have always wondered if we are alone in the universe, and until 25 years ago the only planets we knew were the eight of our solar system, but since then we have found thousands of planets in orbit around other stars, and we think that all the stars in our galaxy must have their own family of planets,” he said.
TESS, a first step to detect traces of life
Once TESS has spotted these new planets, terrestrial and space telescopes will be able to study them more precisely.
The James Webb Space Telescope, which will succeed Hubble and is scheduled for launch in 2020, may be able to detect molecular signatures of exoplanet atmospheres including the signature of the presence of life.
“TESS is a bridge between what we have already learned about exoplanets and what we will learn in the future,” said Jeff Volosin, project director at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “With the hope of someday, in the coming decades, to identify the potential conditions for the existence of life outside our solar system”.
As always with SpaceX, the launch will be live on the official website of SpaceX but also on its YouTube channel. And this time, the company should not have any problems to re-transmit the whole sequence of the mission, including when it comes to filming the Earth.