TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Telescopes & Observatories Glossary

I. What is TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite)?

TESS, short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is a space telescope launched by NASA in April 2018 with the primary goal of discovering exoplanets orbiting bright stars in the solar neighborhood. TESS is equipped with four wide-field cameras that allow it to monitor large portions of the sky at once, making it an efficient tool for detecting planets beyond our solar system.

II. How does TESS discover exoplanets?

TESS discovers exoplanets using the transit method, which involves observing the slight dimming of a star’s light as a planet passes in front of it. By measuring these periodic dips in brightness, scientists can infer the presence of an exoplanet and determine its size, orbit, and other characteristics. TESS is particularly adept at finding Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones of their host stars, where conditions may be conducive to the existence of liquid water and potentially life.

III. What is the purpose of TESS?

The primary purpose of TESS is to identify and characterize exoplanets that are relatively close to Earth, making them prime candidates for follow-up observations with other telescopes to study their atmospheres and compositions in more detail. By focusing on bright stars, TESS enables researchers to gather valuable data on a wide range of exoplanets, from rocky worlds to gas giants, and everything in between.

IV. How does TESS differ from other exoplanet-hunting missions?

One of the key differences between TESS and other exoplanet-hunting missions is its wide-field survey approach. While previous missions like Kepler focused on a small patch of sky for an extended period, TESS scans large swaths of the sky in search of exoplanets, allowing it to cover more ground and discover a greater number of planets. Additionally, TESS targets stars that are closer and brighter than those observed by Kepler, making follow-up observations easier and more fruitful.

V. What have been some of TESS’s major discoveries so far?

Since its launch, TESS has made several significant discoveries, including the detection of a planet orbiting the star HD 21749, which is about 53 light-years away from Earth. This planet, known as TOI 700 d, is roughly the size of Earth and orbits within its star’s habitable zone, making it a potential candidate for hosting life. TESS has also identified a system of six exoplanets orbiting the star TOI 178, with some of the planets being arranged in a resonant chain, where their orbits are synchronized in a harmonious pattern.

VI. What is the future of TESS and its impact on exoplanet research?

Looking ahead, TESS is expected to continue its mission of surveying the sky for exoplanets for at least the next few years. As more data is collected and analyzed, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of the diversity of exoplanets and their potential for hosting life. TESS’s discoveries will also inform future missions, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to launch in 2021 and will be able to study the atmospheres of exoplanets identified by TESS in greater detail.

In conclusion, TESS represents a significant advancement in the field of exoplanet research, providing valuable insights into the nature of planets beyond our solar system. By leveraging its wide-field survey capabilities and targeting bright stars, TESS has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of exoplanets and their potential for harboring life. As the mission continues to unfold, we can expect even more exciting discoveries and breakthroughs in the study of distant worlds.