NASA launches TESS telescope to find ′Goldilocks′ worlds | News | DW | 19.04.2018
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NASA launches TESS telescope to find 'Goldilocks' worlds

Tess rode a SpaceX Falcon rocket as it embarked on a quest to find new planets around neighboring stars that could support life. The washing machine-sized telescope will scan almost the entire sky for at least two years.

NASA launched its latest planet-hunting telescope — Transit Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or Tess — on Wednesday.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, carrying Tess, whose launch was delayed for two days by a technical glitch in the rocket's guidance-control system.

The washing machine-sized telescope will scan almost the entire sky for two years in the search for more worlds circling stars beyond our solar system that could harbor life.

Read moreNASA's space telescope TESS on a search for exoplanets

NASA hopes Tess's four cameras might reveal thousands of planets beyond our solar system, several of them Earth-sized planets.

"The sky will become more beautiful, will become more awesome" knowing there are planets orbiting the stars we see twinkling at night, said NASA's top science administrator, Thomas Zurbuchen.

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The exoplanet hunter

Not too hot, not too cold

Tess will mainly scout for planets in the so-called Goldilocks or habitable zone of a star — an orbit where temperatures are neither too cold nor too hot, but just right for the existence of water.

NASA's bigger, more powerful James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in another few years, will then study the most promising candidates to find out whether they could support life.

"Tess will tell us where to look at and when to look," said the mission's chief scientist, George Ricker of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Read moreAliens calling? Scientists detect 'peculiar' signals from nearby star

A conceptual image of the TESS mission

NASA estimates Tess to reveal thousands of exoplanets

Kepler's successor

Tess is the successor to NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, which is running out of fuel after discovering thousands of exoplanets over the past nine years.

Tess's range of observation is 400 times larger than that of Kepler, and unlike its predecessor, Tess will not always be looking at the same section of the sky. It will divide the heavens into 26 sectors. The craft will monitor each of those sectors for 27 days.

While Kepler has focused on stars thousands of light-years away, Tess will concentrate on neighboring stars, dozens or hundreds of light-years away.

"One of the many amazing things that Kepler told us is that planets are everywhere and there are all kinds of planets out there," said Patricia "Padi" Boyd, director of the Tess guest investigator program at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center.

"So Tess takes the next step. If planets are everywhere, then it is time for us to find the planets that are closest to us orbiting bright nearby stars, because these will be the touchstone system."

ap/ (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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