Falcon 9 blasts off in search of planets

Artist concept of TESS in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star

The rocket is scheduled to blast off with Tess at 6:51 p.m. Wednesday.

A Falcon 9 rocket has blasted off on SpaceX's first high-priority science mission for NASA, a planet-hunting space telescope whose launch was delayed for two days by a rocket-guidance glitch.

Look up at the sky tonight. Cameras will monitor the brightest 200,000 dwarf stars, covering the southern sky for the first year, then the northern.

The spacecraft will be looking for a phenomenon known as a transit, where a planet passes in front of its star, causing a periodic and regular dip in the star's brightness.

TESS will survey almost the entire sky, staring at a slice for 27 days before rotating to the next of 26 sections.

"TESS itself will not be able to find life beyond Earth", he said, "but TESS will help us figure out where to point our larger telescopes in that search". TESS is expected to discover close to 50 planets for further study. Image Credit: NASA / Ricker et al. "This is really a mission for the ages".

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TESS will build upon the legacy of NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, which launched in 2009 and has since identified more than 2,300 confirmed exoplanets.

Scientists will conduct follow-up observations of exoplanet "candidates" using powerful ground- or space-based observatories. Even a USB memory stick today has more power that those computers. But what we don't yet know is if any of them host life.

Most of the Kepler-identified planets are so far away that it would take monster-size telescopes to examine them more. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, once launched in 2020 or so, will probe these planets' atmospheres for potential traces of life.

The IBM System/360 Model 75 mainframes running the mission from the Goddard Space Flight Center cost about $3.5 million each, measured their memory in megabytes, and dazzled with their ability to perform up to 750,000 additions per second. Even more notable, the Falcon 9 will deliver TESS into an orbit around Earth that has never before been attempted: a wide ellipse that will take TESS well beyond the orbit of the Moon, The Guardian reports. Liftoff is scheduled for Monday evening.

This unusual orbit means that TESS will have nearly a constant view of the stars, unobstructed by the Moon or Earth itself. TESS will scan an area 350 times greater than Kepler.

TESS is created to concentrate on stars less than 300 light-years away. They're also comparatively cool in temperature. Some will orbit within the habitable zones of their stars, where it's not too hot or cold for liquid water to exist on the surface.

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