NASA to Launch Groundbreaking Planet Hunter

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Photo Courtesy by newscientist.com

NASA’s new satellite, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on April 16. The satellite, no bigger than a refrigerator, is expected to launch from Cape Canavaeral, Florida, about 6:32 p.m ET Monday, April

The Survey Satellite will scan an area of the night sky nearly 400 times larger (about 85 percent of the sky) than the amount covered by its predecessor, according to MNN.com.

“Kepler was all about doing a census: How common are plants in general? What is the size distribution of planets like? Are Earth-sized planets common?” Stephen Rinehart, the project scientists for TESS at Nasa, told theverge.com .“TESS is really optimized for knocking on doors in the neighborghood and saying, ‘Hi, how are you?’ What is this planet actually like?”

Much like Kepler, TESS will be searching for exoplanets using something called transit photometry. A transit occurs when a planet passes in front of its host star. This in turn slightly decreases the brightness of the star, creating a signature that TESS’s four wide-field CCD cameras will be able to detect. Over its two-year prime mission, TESS is expected to study over 200,000 of the brightest dwarf stars in the closes 300 light-years around Earth, explained MNN.com.

“TESS is helping us explore our place in the universe,” said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters. “Until 20 years ago, we didn’t know of any planets beyond our own solar system. We’ve expanded our understanding of our place in the universe, and TESS will help us keep expanding,” he added, reported cnn.com.