By Stan Bush
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (CBS4) – NASA needed 30 seconds of perfect weather, and got it, to launch a telescope into space that could answer one of humanities biggest questions – is there another planet out there like Earth?
“What TESS is giving us is a map to the closest planets in the galaxy,” says CU Boulder astronomer Dr. Zach Berta-Thompson.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, commonly referred to as TESS, will scan the entire galaxy and look for the tiniest flicker of light in a star. That flicker is a distant planet crossing the axis of a star. TESS will see even the slightest change in light and measure it
“These are the stars and the planets that astronomers are going to study for the next decades or centuries to come,” adds Berta-Thompson.
Measurements from the TESS telescope will help astronomers here determine if the planets they’re looking at are made of rock or if they’re just balls of gas. They’ll even be able to determine what color the sunset is on a planet light years away.
The two-year mission will take an elliptical orbit around Earth, which will allow it to look deeper into space than ever before. It will return data back to Earth every two weeks, on the short end of its orbit. Astronomers hope to have detailed information on new planets by next January.
“We’ll measure the composition of 50 new planets between Earth and Neptune’s size,” says Berta-Thompson.
TESS will tell us more about the universe around us, and our place in it.
If life exists somewhere else, TESS might tell us where to find it.
“After a few years we hope anyone in Colorado can look at the night sky and say I know there is a planet orbiting that star.”
Stan Bush is a general assignment reporter at CBS4. His stories can be seen on CBS4 News at 10. Read his bio and follow him on Twitter @StanBushTV.