To Seek Out New Life: How the TESS Mission Will Accelerate the Hunt for Livable Alien Worlds (Kavli Roundtable)


NASA’s TESS exoplanet mission launches atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2018. Credit: SpaceX
A NEW ERA IN THE SEARCH FOR EXOPLANETS — and the alien life they might host—has begun. Aboard a SpaceX rocket, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) launched on April 18, 2018, at 6:51 p.m. EDT. The TESS mission, developed with support from The Kavli Foundation, is led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

By Adam Hadhazy | SPACE.com

Over the next two years, TESS will scan the 200,000 or so nearest and brightest stars to Earth for telltale dimming caused when exoplanets cross their stars‘ faces. Among the thousands of new worlds TESS is expected to discover should be hundreds ranging in size from about one to two times Earth. These small, mostly rocky planets will serve as prime targets for detailed follow-up observations by other telescopes in space and on the ground. [NASA’s TESS Exoplanet-Hunting Mission in Pictures]

The goal for those telescopes will be to characterize the newfound exoplanets‘ atmospheres. The particular mixtures of gases in an atmosphere will reveal key clues about a world’s climate, history, and if it might even be hospitable to life.

The Kavli Foundation spoke with two scientists on the TESS mission to get an inside look at its development and revolutionary science aim of finding the first „Earth twin“ in the universe.

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