Space Telescope “Tess” is looking for new planets

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This Monday, a new space telescope is traveling. TESS, like its predecessor Kepler, is to track down planets outside our solar system. Possibly also earth-like, on which life would be possible.

On Monday, the new space telescope TESS from Cape Canaveral (Florida) to be shot into space. For the first time uses the US space agency NASA for a rocket of the private company SpaceX.

The telescope will position itself in a high Earth orbit, slowly circle the Earth and direct its instruments deep into space. TESS stands for “Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite” – in German: satellite for the collection of passing exoplanets. And that is the task – TESS is to detect planets – more specifically exoplanets. These are planets orbiting stars outside our solar system.

Planets do not shine

For astronomers it has been very difficult to find exoplanets in the past. Unlike stars that emit their own light or other waves, planets that revolve around stars move in the dark. That is why they are virtually invisible to optical telescopes.

Exoplanets can only be found if they fly past their central star from the point of view of the earth. Then they cast a shadow, the light of the star is temporarily a little darker. This allows astronomers to calculate how big, how fast, and how far the exoplanet is from its star.

The predecessor: Kepler

With this method, the NASA Space Telescope Kepler had already identified more than 5,000 exoplanet candidates between 2009 and 2013, 2512 were confirmed as genuine.

Due to technical problems, however, the Kepler mission had to be changed. As of 2014, the Space Telescope, under the mission name K2, sought a larger area of ​​the sky with lower resolution. There, too, the telescope found other exoplanets, but also focused on other celestial bodies and phenomena, such as supernova explosions, star systems, asteroids and comets.

But now Keppler is out of fuel. In addition to the technical difficulties, another reason for NASA to send TESS a successor to space.

Small probe – high expectations

TESS is not much bigger than a fridge, but it can do a lot. His four cameras will focus on the 200,000 brightest stars. As with Kepler, NASA scientists hope to discover exoplanets, including those that are as big as our Earth, and that have an “optimal” distance to their Sun – because this is considered a theoretical prerequisite for the creation of life.

For two years, the satellite will deliver data. Its observation area is 400 times larger than that of Kepler. TESS also offers guest researchers the opportunity to take a closer look at other celestial bodies. Scientists were allowed to name around 20,000 objects and Tess will provide data on them.

The ESA is also researching exoplanets

At the end of the year, the European Space Agency ESA wants to join in the search for exoplanets. Then the satellite “Characterizing ExoPlanets Satellite” – CHEOPS (satellite for the characterization of exoplanets) will go on the journey. It has only one optical telescope and is to be stationed in a sun synchronous orbit around the earth. So he will always look from the same position towards the sun.

CHEOPS, however, unlike TESS, is not looking for new exoplanets but, above all, measuring already known ones precisely.

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