Falcon 9 launches NASA exoplanet hunter

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The Falcon 9 rocket company SpaceX successfully launched into orbit a space telescope TESS, created to search for planets around other stars.

"Over those first two years, which is the nominal mission for Tess, we're expecting to add thousands of planets; something like 2,000-3,000 planets that are certainly below the size of Jupiter, and a lot of them below the size of Neptune".

The mission will survey a great swathe of stars, hoping to catch the dips in brightness that occur when orbiting planets traverse their faces.

Any promising candidate will then be studied by more powerful telescopes in the future which will look to scan the planets' atmospheres for components such as water vapor, oxygen, methane and carbon dioxide.

NASA HAS LAUNCHED a spaceship created to scan the skies for signs of planets where life may exist outside of our solar system.

After the liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket sent the spacecraft on its way to orbit. It will take two months for Tess to reach its final scientific orbit, which will stretch all the way to the moon. "The Moon pulls the satellite on one side, and by the time TESS completes one orbit, the Moon is on the other side tugging in the opposite direction". "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". "After that, there'll just be a flood of information", says the mission's principal investigator, George Ricker at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"The targets TESS finds are going to be fantastic subjects for research for decades to come", said Stephen Rinehart, TESS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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TESS will also pave the way for followup observations of the planets it finds.

"A cool part, from the Australian perspective, is that the first year of TESS's mission will be spent looking at stars in the southern sky", says Horner.

"One of the many awesome things that Kepler told us is that planets are everywhere and there are all kinds of planets out there", said Dr Patricia "Padi" Boyd, director of the TESS guest investigator programme at Nasa's Goddard Spaceflight Centre.

The satellite is created to look for planets around those stars using the transit method, meaning that it will detect small dips in a star's light that occur when a planet passes across the face of its star from TESS's perspective.

"The sky will become more lovely, will become more awesome", NASA's top science administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said.

The total exoplanet census stands at more than 3,700 confirmed, with another 4,500 on the not-yet-verified list.

TESS will search for a sky area about 350 times larger than Kepler and will focus on smaller, cold and faint stars than our Sun, the red dwarfs, which make up about 90% of the stars of our galaxy.

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