NASA telescope launch postponed in search of exoplanets

NASA telescope launch postponed in search of exoplanets

The US group SpaceX announced Monday the postponement of the launch of a new telescope of NASA designed to search for planets of a size comparable to that of the Earth and likely to house life, to verify the navigation systems of his rocket.
The next launch window will be Wednesday for the Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey (TESS), which is to be flown into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“The launch teams give up today to conduct additional analysis of the (systems) navigation and control,” explained the private group SpaceX on Twitter, about two hours before the scheduled time of launch (22H32 GMT ).
TESS “is in excellent health and is ready for launch,” Nasa says on its website.
At a cost of $ 337 million, this device the size of a washing machine will have the mission of scanning the stars closest to Earth and the brightest in search of exoplanets in their orbit.
Like Kepler, the first telescope of its kind launched in 2009 by the American Space Agency, TESS uses the transits method, which detects planets as they pass their star and thus momentarily fade their light.
– Looking for signs of life –
According to NASA, TESS could discover 20,000 exoplanets, about fifty of the size of the Earth and nearly 500 that would be twice as large as our planet.
Its discoveries will then be studied by terrestrial and space telescopes that will look for signs of habitability such as rocky terrain, a size comparable to that of the Earth and a distance from their sun – not too close, not too far – making it possible a temperature allowing the existence of liquid water.
The Kepler mission has already discovered 2,300 exoplanets confirmed by other telescopes.
“TESS is equipped with four very sensitive cameras that will be able to monitor virtually the entire sky,” according to George Ricker, senior researcher on TESS at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
A new telescope in search of exoplanets (AFP – Simon MALFATTO) “That’s almost 20 times what the Kepler mission could detect,” he added.
Kepler was launched “to answer a question: how common is it to find a planet like Earth turning around a star like the Sun?” Said Patricia Boyd, director of the TESS Visiting Scholar Program at the Goddard center of NASA space flights.
“One of the many incredible things Kepler has taught us is that planets are everywhere and there are all kinds of planets,” she added.
So, if the planets are everywhere, then it’s time for us to find the planets closest to us that are in orbit around near bright stars, because they will be the system of reference, “she explained.
“TESS will dramatically increase the number of planets we will have to study,” said Ricker.
– “A bridge” to the future –
A few decades ago, the idea of ​​finding habitable planets was a pure fantasy, said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division.
“Humans have always wondered if we are alone in the universe, and until 25 years ago, the only planets we knew were the eight of our solar system,” Hertz said at the conference. the day before the launch of TESS.
“But since then we have found thousands of planets orbiting other stars and we think that all the stars in our galaxy must have their own family of planets,” he said.
The next step will be for terrestrial and space telescopes to observe the planets thus detected even closer.
The James Webb Space Telescope, which will succeed Hubble and is scheduled for launch in 2020, may be able to detect the molecular signatures of exoplanet atmospheres, including the signature of the presence of life.
“TESS is a bridge between what we have already learned about exoplanets and what we will learn in the future,” said Jeff Volosin, Project Manager at the Goddard Center.
“With the hope of one day, in the coming decades, to identify the potential conditions for the existence of life outside our solar system”.
The first data collected by TESS should be made public in July.

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