Jul 23, 2019

NASA extends the TESS mission for 2 extra years

Model: NASA; Graphic: Harry Stevens/Axios

Last week, NASA extended the life of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Telescope for two more years, through at least 2022.

Why it matters: TESS is tasked with searching for potentially Earth-like worlds around cool stars not far from our own, and it’s expected to find dozens of them during its life in space.

Scientists have found more than 4,000 confirmed exoplanets, with 21 of those thanks to TESS.

  • While researchers don’t yet have the technology to a figure out whether a world is Earth-like, the planets TESS finds could be good candidates for follow-up observations from future spacecraft that can answer that question.

Details: TESS is just at the end of the first year of its primary mission. In that time, the telescope discovered a variety of planets, including one that’s only about 80% the size of Earth.

  • For the telescope's next act, the satellite is expected to take a look at some areas already seen and observe the ecliptic, the part of the sky covered by the Sun’s path throughout the year, TESS scientist Sara Seager told Axios via email.

Background: TESS finds its planets by waiting for a world to pass in front of its star from Earth’s perspective. When that planet transits across the star, TESS can detect the small dip in light it causes, allowing scientists on Earth to learn more about its characteristics.

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3 planets discovered in nearby solar system vastly different from our own

Image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Wiessinger

Three newly discovered planets just 73 light-years from our own are helping scientists learn more about the diverse solar systems that populate our galaxy, according to a new study in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Key takeaway: The 3 worlds all reside in the TOI-270 star system, a solar system that is very different from our own.

Go deeperArrowJul 30, 2019

Newly uncovered super-Earth 31 light-years away may be habitable

An illustration of the 3 planets around a star known as GJ 357. Photo: NASA

NASA announced Wednesday that its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has uncovered a potentially habitable planet just 31 light-years away from our solar system.

Why it matters: TESS member and associate professor of astronomy Lisa Kaltenegger, who led the international team and who is also director of Cornell's Carl Sagan Institute, said in a statement the discovery of the exoplanet, named GJ 357 d, "is humanity's first nearby super-Earth that could harbor life."

Go deeperArrowAug 1, 2019

The future of asteroid tracking

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Scientists continue to find dangerous asteroids in Earth's vicinity, but to fully capture the threat these nearby space rocks pose, they need tools that aren't in operation now and may not be for years to come.

Driving the news: Last week, an asteroid large enough to destroy a city buzzed by Earth not long after scientists first spotted it.

Go deeperArrowJul 30, 2019