Monday , July 26 2021

First incredible discoveries of the new NASA exoplanet fighter spacecraft: TESS




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Hundreds of planets have been discovered so far in data collected and released by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), with eight confirmed so far by follow-up measures. Three of the most original and interesting exoplanets are illustrated here.NASA / MIT / TESS

It's been almost a decade since NASA's Kepler mission was first launched. As of 2009, the Kepler spacecraft observed hundreds of thousands of stars within our own galaxy, measuring the total amount of light produced in each of them and looking for any tiny changes. At the end of the mission, Kepler and its additional mission, K2, discovered thousands of new planets around stars beyond our own, including a significant number of potentially habitable worlds the size of Earth.

If Kepler showed us that our galaxy was full of planets, then his successor mission, TESS – the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite – will reveal the worlds in transit around the stars closest to ours. If there is a Earth-like world that passes in front of its parent star relative to our line of sight, TESS will reveal it. For the first time, we will be sensitive to the "holy chalice" of planets in our own backyard.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the TESS spacecraft takes off on April 18, 2018 from the Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. TESS is NASA's successor mission to Kepler and K2, and is designed to find exoplanets around the stars closest to Earth.Getty

Kepler's quest was an incredible effort: she sought a narrow field of vision that covered a distance of 3,000 light-years. His main mission was to see this same field, continuously, for years on end. Encapsulating a total of more than 100,000 stars, Kepler sought systematic and periodic dives in the total amount of light from each star. If one was discovered, it potentially indicated the presence of a planet, with the magnitude and the period of the falls corresponding to the radius and the orbital distance of the planet.

But the TESS is different. Instead of looking at a narrow region of the sky, TESS examines the entire sky, sector by sector, to search for planets around the stars closest to us. If there is a planet randomly aligned around any star within approximately 200 light years from us, the TESS will find it, providing its radius and orbital distance. In addition, each TESS discovery that gives us a planet also gives us a candidate system where future observatories, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, may try to find potential signs of life.

NASA's TESS satellite will examine the entire sky in 12-degree-diameter pieces, from the galactic poles to near the galactic equator. As a result of this survey strategy, the polar regions observe more observation time, making the TESS more sensitive to smaller and more distant planets in these systems.NASA / MIT / TESS

The TESS was launched in April 2018, beginning its search for new worlds. His first scientific data collection began in July; almost half a year later, delivered his first data release. Throughout its useful life, TESS is expected to find thousands of new planets around a variety of stars, from gas giants the size of Jupiter to small rocky worlds the size of Earth.

With its first six sectors researched, here are some highlights of what TESS has found so far:

  • more than 300 planets candidates,
  • 8 confirmed planets,
  • including some that are giant planets,
  • and some that are little larger than the Earth.

But the numbers do not do justice to these findings. By examining some of these findings in detail, we can appreciate the phenomenal science that TESS can offer us.

An illustration of NASA's TESS satellite and its in-flight exoplanet capabilities.NASA

The first confirmed planet was the Pi Mensae c, which orbits a star very similar to ours. Only 10% more massive and 20% larger than our Sun, the Pi Mensae is quite similar to our star, but your solar system should be very different. Blocking a small fraction of its light, Pi Mensae c is extremely close to its star, orbiting with a period of only 6.3 days. It is about twice the radius of the Earth and almost five times as large, implying that this is quite typical of hot worlds between the size of the Earth and Neptune.

The number of planets discovered by Kepler ordered by their size distribution, from May 2016, when the largest batch of new exoplanets was released. The super-Earth / mini-Neptune worlds are by far the most common, though virtually all of these worlds are probably similar to Neptune, with large gas envelopes around them, unlike Earth, with rarefied atmospheres.NASA Ames / W. Stenzel

But it is not typical; this is remarkable. Already in 2001, a great planet was discovered disturbing the orbit of Pi Mensae: Pi Mensae b. It was one of the most massive planets ever discovered: more than 10 times the mass of Jupiter. Its orbit is very eccentric, getting farther away than Jupiter from the Sun at its farthest point (5.54 AU), but making a near-near passage into Earth orbit (1.21 AU) at its periastro.

With Pi Mensae now being discovered by TESS, this marks the first time we have discovered a nearby and distant planet within the same system with very different properties and orbits. The main theory is that nearby planets form in almost perfect circular orbits, but to create an eccentric mass planet of Jupiter (or greater) something must have disturbed it.

The Pi Mensae system is now the most extreme known in this respect, and the mystery of how such systems reach this configuration will surely be a topic of much research – and speculation – in the future.

Today, we know of more than 3,500 confirmed exoplanets, with more than 2,500 of those found in Kepler's data. These planets range in size from larger than Jupiter to smaller than Earth. However, due to the limitations of Kepler size and mission duration, most Earth-sized planets are very hot and close to their star. TESS has the same problem with the first planets that it is discovering: they are preferentially hot and in near orbits.NASA / Ames Research Center / Jessie Dotson and Wendy Stenzel; Earthless worlds similar to E. Siegel

The most extreme planet discovered is LHS 3884b, which is only slightly larger than Earth at 1.3 times the radius of our planet but so close to its parent star that it completes a revolution every 11 hours. At a distance of 49 light-years away, this world is so hot that its side facing the stars can be loaded with pools of molten lava in the hottest parts. The world is, at least in theory, so hot that the rock itself enters the liquid phase.

Although it is unlikely to have these mass and temperature properties in the atmosphere, it can create a thin layer on a continuous basis depending on its chemical composition on or near the surface of the planet. The characteristics of this system make it an ideal candidate to measure the absorption spectra of the atmosphere. If you have one, we should know what is done once we have the right telescopes looking at it.

The candidate planets around HD 21749 are perhaps the most interesting finds so far of TESS, and show us a solar system that is unique among all that we have already discovered.NASA / MIT / TESS

More spectacularly, TESS has given us a star to keep an eye on: HD 21749. Located a mere 53 light-years away, this star is smaller and less massive than the Sun: about 70% is so big and gigantic. As a Class K star, the orbiting planets must not be subject to catastrophic explosions or tidal blocks; if there is a world the size of Earth at the correct distance from this star, would be an excellent opportunity for a world with life.

On New Year's Eve, the TESS team has launched a announcing the discovery of a planet in orbit of this star: HD 21749b, with an orbit of 36 days and 2.84 times the Earth's radius. This world, somewhat smaller than Neptune, was confirmed by later observations, which determined its mass to be 23.2 times the Earth's mass, making it smaller but more massive – and denser – than Uranus or Neptune.

Using the first three months of publicly available data from NASA's TESS mission, scientists at MIT and other countries have confirmed a new planet, HD 21749b – the third small planet TESS has discovered so far. HD 21749b orbits a star, approximately the size of the sun, 53 light-years away.NASA / MIT / TESS

This is interesting for several reasons. First, at these distances, temperatures should be warm, but not ultra-hot: around 300 ° F (150 ° C). Second, it is the longest-lived exoplanet known in 100 light-years of Earth. And, perhaps most interesting of all, there is a suggestion of a signal – and a possible planet candidate – that may also exist closer to the star in the HD 21749 system. The additional candidate, if confirmed, would have a period of 8 days and a radius of about the size of the Earth.

If this planet comes into being, it will be the first Earth-sized world to be detected by TESS: the smallest this new observatory has ever encountered.

An artistic representation of a potentially habitable exoplanet orbiting a star resembling the sun. When it comes to life beyond Earth, we have not yet discovered our first inhabited world, but TESS is bringing us the stellar systems that will be our most likely candidates and initials to discover it.NASA Ames / JPL-Caltech

The ultimate goal of TESS is to find possible Earth-like worlds and stellar systems that can harbor rocky and potentially habitable worlds. As the TESS is optimized to search the stars closest to us, its greatest discoveries will be among the first targets for future more powerful observatories, which can not only detect these worlds but also measure their atmospheric contents. If we are lucky, some of these worlds may harbor molecules such as water, methane, carbon dioxide, or even oxygen in their atmospheres.

It will not be a dilemma for these worlds to be inhabited, but TESS takes us one step closer to finding the closest worlds that may be mankind's greatest hope for finding life outside our own Solar System. The worlds we have encountered so far are absolutely fascinating, and only a few months into their main mission, TESS is easily meeting the highest expectations. When the James Webb Space Telescope is launched, TESS must provide us with many worlds that may be the best place to take the next big leap toward our ultimate goal: to find an inhabited world.

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Hundreds of planets have been discovered so far in data collected and released by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), with eight confirmed so far by follow-up measures. Three of the most original and interesting exoplanets are illustrated here.NASA / MIT / TESS

It's been almost a decade since NASA's Kepler mission was first launched. As of 2009, the Kepler spacecraft observed hundreds of thousands of stars within our own galaxy, measuring the total amount of light produced in each of them and looking for any tiny changes. At the end of the mission, Kepler and its additional mission, K2, discovered thousands of new planets around stars beyond our own, including a significant number of potentially habitable worlds the size of Earth.

If Kepler showed us that our galaxy was full of planets, then his successor mission, TESS – the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite – will reveal the worlds in transit around the stars closest to ours. If there is a Earth-like world that passes in front of its parent star relative to our line of sight, TESS will reveal it. For the first time, we will be sensitive to the "holy grail" of the planets in our own backyard.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the TESS spacecraft takes off on April 18, 2018 from the Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. TESS is NASA's successor mission to Kepler and K2, and is designed to find exoplanets around the stars closest to Earth.Getty

Kepler's quest was an incredible effort: she sought a narrow field of vision that covered a distance of 3,000 light-years. His main mission was to see this same field, continuously, for years on end. Encapsulating a total of more than 100,000 stars, Kepler sought systematic and periodic dives in the total amount of light from each star. If one was discovered, it potentially indicated the presence of a planet, with the magnitude and the period of the falls corresponding to the radius and the orbital distance of the planet.

But the TESS is different. Instead of looking at a narrow region of the sky, TESS examines the entire sky, sector by sector, to search for planets around the stars closest to us. If there is a planet randomly aligned around any star within approximately 200 light years from us, the TESS will find it, providing its radius and orbital distance. In addition, each TESS discovery that gives us a planet also gives us a candidate system where future observatories, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, may try to find potential signs of life.

NASA's TESS satellite will examine the entire sky in 12-degree-diameter pieces, from the galactic poles to near the galactic equator. As a result of this survey strategy, the polar regions observe more observation time, making the TESS more sensitive to smaller and more distant planets in these systems.NASA / MIT / TESS

The TESS was launched in April 2018, beginning its search for new worlds. His first scientific data collection began in July; almost half a year later, delivered his first data release. Throughout its useful life, TESS is expected to find thousands of new planets around a variety of stars, from gas giants the size of Jupiter to small rocky worlds the size of Earth.

With its first six sectors researched, here are some highlights of what TESS has found so far:

  • more than 300 planets candidates,
  • 8 confirmed planets,
  • including some that are giant planets,
  • and some that are little larger than the Earth.

But the numbers do not do justice to these findings. By examining some of these findings in detail, we can appreciate the phenomenal science that TESS can offer us.

An illustration of NASA's TESS satellite and its in-flight exoplanet capabilities.NASA

The first confirmed planet was the Pi Mensae c, which orbits a star very similar to ours. Only 10% more massive and 20% larger than our Sun, the Pi Mensae is quite similar to our star, but your solar system should be very different. Blocking a small fraction of its light, Pi Mensae c is extremely close to its star, orbiting with a period of only 6.3 days. It is about twice the radius of the Earth and almost five times as large, implying that this is quite typical of hot worlds between the size of the Earth and Neptune.

The number of planets discovered by Kepler ordered by their size distribution, from May 2016, when the largest batch of new exoplanets was released. The super-Earth / mini-Neptune worlds are by far the most common, though virtually all of these worlds are probably similar to Neptune, with large gas envelopes around them, unlike Earth, with rarefied atmospheres.NASA Ames / W. Stenzel

But it is not typical; this is remarkable. Already in 2001, a great planet was discovered disturbing the orbit of Pi Mensae: Pi Mensae b. It was one of the most massive planets ever discovered: more than 10 times the mass of Jupiter. Its orbit is very eccentric, getting farther away than Jupiter from the Sun at its farthest point (5.54 AU), but making a near-near passage into Earth orbit (1.21 AU) at its periastro.

With Pi Mensae now being discovered by TESS, this marks the first time we have discovered a nearby and distant planet within the same system with very different properties and orbits. The main theory is that nearby planets form in almost perfect circular orbits, but to create an eccentric mass planet of Jupiter (or greater) something must have disturbed it.

The Pi Mensae system is now the most extreme known in this respect, and the mystery of how such systems reach this configuration will surely be a topic of much research – and speculation – in the future.

Today, we know of more than 3,500 confirmed exoplanets, with more than 2,500 of those found in Kepler's data. These planets range in size from larger than Jupiter to smaller than Earth. However, due to the limitations of Kepler size and mission duration, most Earth-sized planets are very hot and close to their star. TESS has the same problem with the first planets that it is discovering: they are preferentially hot and in near orbits.NASA / Ames Research Center / Jessie Dotson and Wendy Stenzel; Earthless worlds similar to E. Siegel

The most extreme planet discovered is LHS 3884b, which is only slightly larger than Earth at 1.3 times the radius of our planet, but so close to its parent star that it completes a revolution every 11 hours. At a distance of 49 light-years away, this world is so hot that its side facing the stars can be loaded with pools of molten lava in the hottest parts. The world is, at least in theory, so hot that the rock itself enters the liquid phase.

Although it is unlikely to have these mass and temperature properties in the atmosphere, it can create a thin layer on a continuous basis depending on its chemical composition on or near the surface of the planet. The characteristics of this system make it an ideal candidate to measure the absorption spectra of the atmosphere. If you have one, we should know what is done once we have the right telescopes looking at it.

The candidate planets around HD 21749 are perhaps the most interesting finds so far of TESS, and show us a solar system that is unique among all that we have already discovered.NASA / MIT / TESS

More spectacularly, TESS has given us a star to keep an eye on: HD 21749. Located a mere 53 light-years away, this star is smaller and less massive than the Sun: about 70% is so big and gigantic. As a Class K star, the orbiting planets must not be subject to catastrophic explosions or tidal blocks; if there is a world the size of Earth at the correct distance from this star, would be an excellent opportunity for a world with life.

On New Year's Eve, the TESS team released a document announcing the discovery of a planet orbiting that star: HD 21749b, with a 36-day orbit and 2.84 times the Earth's radius. This world, somewhat smaller than Neptune, was confirmed by later observations, which determined its mass to be 23.2 times the Earth's mass, making it smaller but more massive – and denser – than Uranus or Neptune.

Using the first three months of publicly available data from NASA's TESS mission, scientists at MIT and other countries have confirmed a new planet, HD 21749b – the third small planet TESS has discovered so far. HD 21749b orbits a star, approximately the size of the sun, 53 light-years away.NASA / MIT / TESS

This is interesting for several reasons. First, at these distances, temperatures should be warm, but not ultra-hot: around 300 ° F (150 ° C). Second, it is the longest-lived exoplanet known in 100 light-years of Earth. And, perhaps most interesting of all, there is a suggestion of a signal – and a possible planet candidate – that may also exist closer to the star in the HD 21749 system. The additional candidate, if confirmed, would have a period of 8 days and a radius of about the size of the Earth.

If this planet comes into being, it will be the first Earth-sized world to be detected by TESS: the smallest this new observatory has ever encountered.

An artistic representation of a potentially habitable exoplanet orbiting a star resembling the sun. When it comes to life beyond Earth, we have not yet discovered our first inhabited world, but TESS is bringing us the stellar systems that will be our most likely candidates and initials to discover it.NASA Ames / JPL-Caltech

The ultimate goal of TESS is to find possible Earth-like worlds and stellar systems that can harbor rocky and potentially habitable worlds. As the TESS is optimized to search the stars closest to us, its greatest discoveries will be among the first targets for future more powerful observatories, which can not only detect these worlds but also measure their atmospheric contents. If we are lucky, some of these worlds may harbor molecules such as water, methane, carbon dioxide, or even oxygen in their atmospheres.

It will not be a dilemma for these worlds to be inhabited, but TESS takes us one step closer to finding the closest worlds that may be mankind's greatest hope for finding life outside our own Solar System. The worlds we have encountered so far are absolutely fascinating, and only a few months into their main mission, TESS is easily meeting the highest expectations. When the James Webb Space Telescope is launched, TESS must provide us with many worlds that may be the best place to take the next big leap toward our ultimate goal: to find an inhabited world.


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