NASA's planet-hunting TESS telescope launches Monday aboard a SpaceX rocket

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NASA's planet-hunting TESS telescope launches Monday aboard a SpaceX rocket

TESS is NASA's next step in the search for planets outside of our solar system, known as exoplanets, including those that could support life.

"With the two-minute pictures, you can get a movie-like image of what the starlight is doing as the planet is crossing in front of its host star", Guerrero said.

A few worlds TESS finds may be small, rocky bodies like Earth.

And that means a lot more planets. Scientists need to witness these dimmings multiple times before they can tell whether it's truly evidence of a circling world. "This is really a mission for the ages". Astronomers anticipate that TESS will will find hundreds of super-Earths, which don't exist in our solar system.

The NASA-funded spaceship is not larger than a refrigerator and has four cameras that were designed, conceived, and built at MIT, with a single wide-eyed vision, which is to survey the nearest and brightest stars in the sky for the signs of passing planets. Separating those weak signals from the rest of the star's light will be exceedingly hard for small, rocky planets with compact atmospheres.

"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".

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"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", he added.

Because red dwarfs are so small, their planets seem relatively big, which makes them easier to detect.

It does this by analysing the brightness of transit or moving stars.

The space-based telescope could also study all kinds of other celestial phenomena, including supernovas, flare stars and active galaxies. Mission control plays a critical role in the success of space missions, and now you could be part of that.

Because of those tight observing windows, the spacecraft won't be able to pick up planets with longer Earth-sized orbits, as Kepler could.

The first year of observations will map the 13 sectors encompassing the southern sky, and the second year will map the 13 sectors of the northern sky.

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The Transit Exoplanet Survey Satellite has been in the works for years and in a way could be considered a sort of direct successor to the Kepler, the incredibly fruitful mission that has located thousands of exoplanets over almost a decade.

TESS will have enough fuel to get into the planned orbit and to get its mission done for at least 2 years.

TESS will be placed in a never-used-before orbit.

With the help of a gravitational assist from the Moon, the spacecraft will settle into a 13.7-day orbit around Earth, NASA said in an earlier statement. "It is just going to be incredibly exciting". If it does, Earth will already know where to send small robotic explorers.

"It's going to be a discovery machine", Dr Tucker said.

"TESS is going to essentially provide the catalog, like the phone book, if you will, of all the best planets for following up, for looking at their atmospheres and studying more about them."

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