From NASA/MIT TESS: “NASA’s Planet Hunter Completes Its Primary Mission”

NASA/MIT TESS replaced Kepler in search for exoplanets

From NASA/MIT TESS

Aug. 11, 2020

By Francis Reddy
francis.j.reddy@nasa.gov
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Media contact:
Claire Andreoli​
claire.andreoli@nasa.gov
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
(301) 286-1940

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Illustration of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) at work. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.


NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has completed its two-year primary mission and is continuing its search for new worlds. Watch to review some of TESS’s most interesting discoveries so far. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

TESS monitors 24-by-96-degree strips of the sky called sectors for about a month using its four cameras. The mission spent its first year observing 13 sectors comprising the southern sky and then spent another year imaging the northern sky.

Now in its extended mission, TESS has turned around to resume surveying the south. In addition, the TESS team has introduced improvements to the way the satellite collects and processes data. Its cameras now capture a full image every 10 minutes, three times faster than during the primary mission. A new fast mode allows the brightness of thousands of stars to be measured every 20 seconds, along with the previous method of collecting these observations from tens of thousands of stars every two minutes. The faster measurements will allow TESS to better resolve brightness changes caused by stellar oscillations and to capture explosive flares from active stars in greater detail.

These changes will remain in place for the duration of the extended mission, which will be completed in September 2022. After spending a year imaging the southern sky, TESS will take another 15 months to collect additional observations in the north and to survey areas along the ecliptic – the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun – that the satellite has not yet imaged.

TESS looks for transits, the telltale dimming of a star caused when an orbiting planet passes in front of it from our point of view.

Planet transit. NASA/Ames.

Among the mission’s newest planetary discoveries are its first Earth-size world, named TOI 700 d, which is located in the habitable zone of its star, the range of distances where conditions could be just right to allow liquid water on the surface. TESS revealed a newly minted planet around the young star AU Microscopii and found a Neptune-size world orbiting two suns.

In addition to its planetary discoveries, TESS has observed the outburst of a comet in our solar system, as well as numerous exploding stars. The satellite discovered surprise eclipses in a well-known binary star system, solved a mystery about a class of pulsating stars, and explored a world experiencing star-modulated seasons. Even more remarkable, TESS watched as a black hole in a distant galaxy shredded a Sun-like star.

Missions like TESS help contribute to the field of astrobiology, the interdisciplinary research on the variables and conditions of distant worlds that could harbor life as we know it, and what form that life could take.

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The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will discover thousands of exoplanets in orbit around the brightest dwarf stars in the sky. In a two-year survey of the solar neighborhood, TESS will monitor the brightness of stars for periodic drops caused by planet transits. The TESS mission is finding planets ranging from small, rocky worlds to giant planets, showcasing the diversity of planets in the galaxy.

Astronomers predict that TESS will discover dozens of Earth-sized planets and up to 500 planets less than twice the size of Earth. In addition to Earth-sized planets, TESS is expected to find some 20,000 exoplanets in its two-year prime mission. TESS will find upwards of 17,000 planets larger than Neptune.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research serves as principal investigator for the mission. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

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