Launch of NASA's TESS planet-hunter postponed to April 18

Launch of NASA's TESS planet-hunter postponed to April 18

Launch of NASA's TESS planet-hunter postponed to April 18

Based on Kepler's statistics, the science team expects to detect more than 1,500 transiting exoplanet candidates over the course of a two-year primary mission, including roughly 500 Earth-sized and "Super Earth" planets.

"TESS is equipped with four very sensitive cameras that will be able to monitor almost the entire sky", said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

TESS will follow in the footsteps of NASA's epic Kepler space telescope, which has discovered 2,650 alien worlds to date - about 70 percent of all known exoplanets.

NASA's newest planet-hunting spacecraft will have to wait another couple of days before lifting off.

The next opportunity to blast off the US$337 million (RM1.3 billion) satellite - which aims to advance the search for extraterrestrial life by scanning the skies for nearby, Earth-like planets - will be tomorrow.

The launch of NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) stands postponed, with the space administration and SpaceX now working towards a targeted launch on April 18, 2018. The mission will focus on planets circling bright stars that are less than 300 light-years from Earth.

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"We're expecting to find 2,000-3,000 planets that are certainly below the size of our Jupiter and a lot of them below the size of Neptune; so, the ones that have the potential for being terrestrial, for being rocky", said Jennifer Burt from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which leads the mission. TESS will also cover a sky area 400 times larger than that monitored by Kepler. "In a two-year survey of the solar neighborhood, TESS will search for tell-tale dips in the brightness of stars that indicate an orbiting planet regularly transiting across the face of its star".

"If you look at what Kepler found, nobody assumed there'd be a planet that might be made all of diamond, or all that there could be worlds that are all covered in water, or things like that", said Volosin.

"TESS is the initial step", said Stephen Rinehart, TESS venture researcher at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center.

The US space agency is about to launch a telescope that should find thousands of planets beyond our Solar System.

Astronomers said they hope TESS will help catalog about 100 more rocky exoplanets for further study. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, once launched in 2020 or so, will probe these planets' atmospheres for potential traces of life. "It's like we're making a treasure map", Guerrero said.

It may be decades before astronomers know whether or not life exists elsewhere.

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