Tech UPTechnologyAll set to launch the great exoplanet hunter

All set to launch the great exoplanet hunter

The Falcon 9 rocket of the Space X company has been successfully launched into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 18 at 6:51 pm local time (00.51 Spanish time), after a 48 hour delay. after the scheduled date, for Monday 16, due to a technical problem.

The rocket is carrying a delicate payload: the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, NASA’s big bid to exponentially increase the harvest of exoplanet discoveries.

“We are withdrawing today for further analysis, and teams are working towards the launch of TESS on Wednesday, April 18,” SpaceX representatives wrote on Twitter the same day the launch was scheduled.

The experts of the North American agency of the space foresee that, in two years, TESS will locate up to 20,000 new worlds outside the Solar System – so far just over 3,800 have been registered -, including 50 of the dimensions of the Earth and another 500 ( called super-earths) that would be less than twice that size. The ultimate goal of the scientific community is to detect places where there are conditions for life to develop and find out whether or not we are an exception in the Universe.

With a cost of 337 million dollars and the approximate size of a washing machine, TESS takes the witness of the Kepler mission , launched in 2009, which is close to running out of useful life. By targeting a very specific region of the sky, where some 150,000 stars similar to our Sun were shining, Kepler confirmed the existence of 2,300 exoplanets, which can be considered a success. The problem is that many of them are too far away to study further.


200,000 stars in the spotlight

Equipped with four high-precision, wide-angle cameras, TESS will comb an area roughly 400 times larger than its predecessor , where stars 30 to 100 times brighter and 10 times closer are located. During its first two years of work, the satellite will have mapped 85% of the sky, according to NASA astronomers, with 200,000 bright stars likely to host planetary systems in total.

The technique is the usual one: capturing small periodic “blackouts” in the brightness of a star, which indicate the passage of the planetary body that orbits it. This is what is called transit photometry. With that clue, terrestrial and space observatories will be in charge after confirming the finding and collecting more data on the new exworld : mass, density, composition (if it is rock or a Jupiter-style gas giant), atmosphere, proximity to its star , etc. That is, the factors that make it more or less habitable. For example, the James Webb space observatory, whose launch has recently been delayed to 2020, will be very useful in this field of study.

The detailed plan of action is for TESS to track the sky dividing it into 26 different sectors, dedicating 27 days to each of those portions. To do this, it will be placed in a very specific position , with the greatest possible visibility of the cosmos, little incidence of radiation and a relatively benign temperature for its instruments. It is a never used orbit, between 373,000 (apogee) and 108,000 kilometers (perigee) from Earth. There, in addition to searching for exoplanets, the satellite will collect information on another 20,000 interesting objects from an astronomical point of view .


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