The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) of NASA has started its search for new planets among nearby stars that could possibly support life.
The planet-hunter began its search on July 25 and is expected to transmit its first series of data back to Earth in August. Following this, the satellite will continue sending data in intervals of 13.5 days, once per orbit, while making its closest approach to Earth.
“I’m thrilled that our new planet hunter mission is ready to start scouring our solar system’s neighbourhood for new worlds,” said Paul Hertz, NASA Astrophysics division director at Headquarters, Washington. “Now that we know there are more planets than stars in our universe, I look forward to the strange, fantastic worlds we’re bound to discover.
The satellite in question is NASA's first attempt to search for planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets. The next few years of the project will see the satellite hunting for planets among the stars which are bright and lie close to our solar system.
The study would primarily focus on finding out the reason for periodic dips in the stars' light. As NASA predicts, the dip in light, aka transits, could be because of planets that are revolving around the stars. Some of them might hold the ability to support life.
TESS falls under NASA's Astrophysics Explorer mission which is led and operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. However, the project is led by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt in Maryland.
In its survey, NASA claims that the satellite, which was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on April 18 this year, would inspect 2,00,000 of the brightest stars near the Sun to search for transiting Exoplanets.
The satellite is expected to create a catalog of thousands of exoplanet candidates using the Transit method. After this list has been compiled, the TESS mission will conduct ground-based follow-up observations to confirm that the exoplanets candidates are true exoplanets and not false positives.