Thursday, 19 April, 2018

Winking Stars: NASA's Search For Alien Worlds

Nasa's mission to find a new Earth (and say hi to aliens) NASA's New Satellite Will Search For Undiscovered Exoplanets
Theresa Hayes | 16 April, 2018, 12:42

Once in orbit, TESS will spend about two years surveying 200,000 of the brightest stars near the sun to search for planets outside our solar system.

The astronaut crew will thaw them, activate the sperm with special chemicals to make it move and hopefully to be able to fuse it with an egg. "They're going to find planets in parts of the sky we can't look at".

Yet planets can, from our viewpoint, appear to travel or "transit" across the face of their star as they orbit, blocking a small fraction of the star's light.

What is the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite? Different gases absorb different wavelengths of light, and scientists can determine the composition of the planet's atmosphere by analyzing the spectrum of this light using more-powerful observatories. Icy Comet NEATImage Credit: T. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Z. Levay and L.Frattare (Space Telescope Science Institute) and National Optical Astronomy Observatory/Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy/National Science Foundation.4.

A new NASA planet-hunting spacecraft, TESS, is all set to write the next revolutionary chapter in astronomy by unveiling more details regarding the nearest exoplanets and, probably, uncovering the initial signs of life seen beyond Earth.

During its almost ten-year term in space, the Kepler mission confirmed more than 2,600 exoplanets, many of them thousands of light years away. The objective of the Kepler mission was to explore, how frequently planets occur around the stars. Looking for very small changes in brightness as the plant crosses in front of the host star. The most successful has been the UK-led Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) project, of which I am a member. TESS is also created to search planets that are orbiting nearby stars which are spread across the sky. "Are Earth-sized planets common?"

Artist's illustration of TESS in space. The satellite will observe the Southern hemisphere in the first year and the Northern in the second.

The TESS launch is scheduled for 18:32 EDT (23:32 BST) and will be broadcast live on NASA TV. But planets orbiting dimmer, cooler red dwarf stars might be at the right temperature for life even if they are so close. As evidence of this fact, in 2016 Kepler confirmed the presence of 1,284 new planets just in the tiny patch of sky it was looking at. Any planets it finds will be prime targets for JWST. "We call this the habitable zone". The Kepler space telescope has been looking for these cosmic winks for a few years and it helped identify thousands of planet candidates. Once back on Earth, the samples will be unfrozen and tested to find out if the sperm cells went through the steps necessary for fusion and whether the samples were taken to space behave or are similar to samples that have undergone the exact same steps here on Earth.