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NASA telescope discovers TWO new planets, including a ‘hot-Earth’  49 light years away

A planet-hunting orbital telescope designed to detect worlds beyond our solar system discovered two distant planets this week five months after its launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, officials said on Thursday.

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, better known as TESS, made an early discovery of ‘super-Earth’ and ‘hot Earth’ planets in solar systems at least 49 light-years away, marking the satellite’s first discovery since its April launch. 

TESS is on a two-year, $337 million mission to expand astronomers’ known catalog of so-called exoplanets, worlds circling distant stars.

While the two planets are too hot to support life, TESS Deputy Science Director Sara Seager expects many more such discoveries.

 

NASA released TESS’s first official science image earlier this month, in the first step toward finding new worlds beyond our solar system. Its stunning ‘first light’ image reveals a look at several celestial features, including the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds and the incredibly bright stars Beta Gruis and R Doradus

‘We will have to wait and see what else TESS discovers,’ Seager told Reuters. ‘We do know that planets are out there, littering the night sky, just waiting to be found.’

TESS is designed to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which discovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented during the past 20 years and is running out of fuel.

NASA expects to pinpoint thousands more previously unknown worlds, perhaps hundreds of them Earth-sized or ‘super-Earth’ sized – no larger than twice as big as our home planet.

Those are believed the most likely to feature rocky surfaces or oceans and are thus considered the best candidates for life to evolve. 

Scientists have said they hope TESS will ultimately help catalog at least 100 more rocky exoplanets for further study in what has become one of astronomy’s newest fields of exploration.

MIT researchers on Wednesday announced the discovery of Pi Mensae c, a ‘super-earth’ planet 60 light-years away orbiting its sun every 6.3 days. 

The discovery of LHS 3844 b, a ‘hot-earth’ planet 49 light-years away that orbits its sun every 11 hours, was announced on Thursday.

Pi Mensae c could have a solid surface or be a waterworld as the composition of such planets is a mixed bag, Martin Spill, NASA’s program scientist for TESS, said in a phone interview.

TESS is designed to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which discovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented during the past 20 years and is running out of fuel. NASA expects to pinpoint thousands more unknown worlds, perhaps hundreds of them Earth-sized or 'super-Earth' sized - no larger than twice as big as our home planet

TESS is designed to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which discovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented during the past 20 years and is running out of fuel. NASA expects to pinpoint thousands more unknown worlds, perhaps hundreds of them Earth-sized or ‘super-Earth’ sized – no larger than twice as big as our home planet

WHAT IS THE TESS SPACECRAFT?

NASA’s new ‘planet hunter,’ set to be Kepler’s successor, is equipped with four cameras that will allow it to view 85 per cent of the entire sky, as it searches exoplanets orbiting stars less than 300 light-years away.

By studying objects much brighter than the Kepler targets, it’s hoped TESS could uncover new clues on the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.

Its four wide-field cameras will view the sky in 26 segments, each of which it will observe one by one.

In its first year of operation, it will map the 13 sectors that make up the southern sky.

Then, the following year, it will scour the northern sectors.

‘We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars,’ said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA’s Headquarters. 

‘TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds whose properties can be probed by NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and other missions.’

 

Tess is 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide and is shorter than most adults.

The observatory is 4 feet across (1.2 meters), not counting the solar wings, which are folded for launch, and weighs just 800 pounds (362 kilograms). 

NASA says it’s somewhere between the size of a refrigerator and a stacked washer and dryer. 

Tess will aim for a unique elongated orbit that passes within 45,000 miles of Earth on one end and as far away as the orbit of the moon on the other end.

It will take Tess two weeks to circle Earth.   

The two newest planets, which still need to be reviewed by other researchers, offer the chance for follow-up study, officials said.

‘That, of course, is TESS’ entire purpose – to find those planets around those brightest nearby stars to do this really detailed characterization,’ Spill said.

With four special cameras, TESS uses a detection method called transit photometry, which looks for periodic dips in the visible light of stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them.

NASA released TESS’s first official science image earlier this month, in the first step toward finding new worlds beyond our solar system.

Its stunning ‘first light’ image reveals a look at several celestial features, including the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds and the incredibly bright stars Beta Gruis and R Doradus.  

 TESS fired its cameras for 30 mins on August 7, capturing a detailed image of the southern sky. With four special cameras, TESS uses a detection method called transit photometry, which looks for periodic dips in the visible light of stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them

 TESS fired its cameras for 30 mins on August 7, capturing a detailed image of the southern sky. With four special cameras, TESS uses a detection method called transit photometry, which looks for periodic dips in the visible light of stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them

‘In a sea of stars brimming with new worlds, TESS is casting a wide net and will haul in a bounty of promising planets for further study,’ said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

‘This first light science image shows the capabilities of TESS’s cameras, and shows that the mission will realize its incredible potential in our search for another Earth.’

TESS fired its cameras for 30 mins on August 7, capturing a detailed image of the southern sky.

Ahead of its first science images, the spacecraft has been conducting tests over the last few months to verify its ability to observe a broad swath of the sky.

In its latest photo, TESS captured stars and objects that includes systems that are home to exoplanets.

‘This swatch of the sky’s southern hemisphere includes more than a dozen stars we know have transiting planets based on previous studies from ground observatories,’ said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in Cambridge.

The $337 million satellite launched on April 18 atop a Falcon 9 rocket on its way toward what scientists have hailed a ‘mission for the ages.’

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