TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) a planet-hunting spacecraft build by NASA has beaten its own goal, as the space agency revealed that TESS has spotted 2,241 potential alien planets for scientists to study since its first launch in 2018. Hundreds of those are smaller planets and could resemble the rocky Earth-like structure.
Launched in April 2018, TESS (The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) was originally expected to only find 1,600 planets in its first two years. It searches for exo-planets (aka planets that orbit other stars) using the transit method. Meaning each month, the spacecraft turns to a new strip of stars and looks for the changes in the brightness levels of distant stars, caused by a planet crossing between star and telescope. Taking those changes as a reference it estimates the characteristics like size and mass of that planet.
Astronomers have offered details about all of the candidate planets that TESS has identified so far in a new catalog by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The exciting thing is to look at the map of TESS exoplanets as a kind of to-do list — with 2,000 things on it,” said the lead researcher and author of the catalog, Natalia Guerrero, to NASA in a statement.
The spacecraft has found some earth-like planets, but there’s still no word whether these planets could potentially be habitable or not. Additionally, TESS has discovered some rocky planets like:
- TOI-700 d, which is just 100 light-years away
- LHS 3844 b, a “hot super-Earth” with a temperature of nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and which orbits so close to its star that a year there lasts just 11 days
- TOI 1690 b, a rare survivor of a red giant star engulfing planets in its orbit.
- TOI 849 b, appears to be a gas giant that has lost its atmosphere.
Meanwhile, TESS is still studying more planets, and under its extended mission, it will discover more exoplanets until September 2022. With scientists working with the existing data, around 120 of the candidates have been confirmed so far. It will get a spacecraft like the James Webb Space Telescope to study candidate planets in greater detail in near future.