On Monday night, NASA is because of launch its new telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS. The instrument’s most important job is to establish exoplanets, planets orbiting stars apart from our personal solar.
Scientists estimate the undertaking will establish 1000’s of planets we have by no means seen earlier than. But in case you have your coronary heart set on discovering proof of extraterrestrial life, TESS is simply step one—it will not be capable to collect fairly sufficient details about these new planets to get a superb sense of how liveable they is likely to be.
“This is all supposed to be orchestrated in a way that TESS will find the objects, and then other current and future telescopes will be able to do the characterization of their atmospheres,” TESS scientific chief George Ricker, an astronomer at MIT, instructed Newsweek.
Read extra: NASA Is Launching Its Next Planet-Hunting Telescope, Here’s What to Know
The new telescope works by watching stars and on the lookout for the tiny repeated dips of their brightness brought on by a planet passing between the telescope and the star. “You don’t really have an image,” Ricker mentioned.
From simply that brightness information, TESS scientists will be capable to differentiate between actual planets and false indicators like these brought on by particles or instrument flukes. They may also be capable to parse out some essential particulars about every new planet, like its dimension and the way it orbits its star.
Ground-based telescopes already in operation will add the planet’s mass, which in flip lets scientists calculate how dense it’s. That can provide some sense of whether or not a planet has a big metallic core like Mercury or is stuffed with lighter substances, however not a lot element.
Scientists will then establish which of TESS’s planets they’d most prefer to be taught extra about for additional examine. “TESS itself will not be able to find life beyond Earth, but TESS will help us figure out where to point our larger telescopes in that search,” Paul Hertz, head of the astrophysics division at NASA, mentioned throughout a press convention on March 28.
Of specific curiosity to TESS scientists is the James Webb Space Telescope, which NASA is planning to launch in 2020. That instrument will be capable to establish a few of the molecules present in an exoplanet’s environment, which is an important step to understanding what it will be like on the floor.
“Are they lava worlds, are they water worlds, are they rocky worlds with thin atmospheres like the Earth?” Hertz mentioned through the press convention. “That’s what we’re gonna learn, and we don’t know the answer to that question yet.”