Astronomers identify nearly 2,000 nearby stars that could be home to Earth-like planets
- The catalog of stars was whittled down by researchers from a list of 470 million
- Using the satellite, TESS, NASA will be able to examine Earth-like exoplanets
- Planets were chosen based on distance to their orbiting star and irradiation
A team of astronomers has identified nearly 2,000 stars set to be studied for habitable, Earth-like exoplanets.
The astronomers — hailing from Cornell, Lehigh and Vanderbilt universities — have narrowed their search down from a whopping 250,000 stars.
The search will employ NASA‘s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which is capable of scanning 85 percent of the entire sky.
Instruments aboard the satellite are sensitive enough to spot Earth-size planets that may be orbiting around 1,823 of those identified stars.
A team of astronomers has identified nearly 2,000 stars set to be studied for habitable, Earth-like exoplanets. Overall, there are a sprawling 470 million stars observable by TESS
‘Our ambition is to not only detect hundreds of Earth-like worlds in other solar systems, but to find them around our closest neighboring solar systems,” Stevenson Professor of Physics and Astronomy Keivan Stassun said in a statement.
‘In a few years’ time, we may very well know that there are other out there, with breathable atmospheres.’
Among the factors key to NASA’s search for habitable exoplanets are their proximity to the orbiting star as well as the type of star.
In a statement researchers said they will observe ‘bright, cool, dwarfs’ with the closest being four light-years away.
In the event that TESS identifies a planet with an atmosphere similar to Earth’s, researchers say the next step — figuring out whether or not it already contains life — will be trickier task.
Identifying life for some further out and colder planets considered to be outside what is known as the ‘habitable zone’ would likely require flying to the planet’s surface.
TESS’s mission started last year when a SpaceX rocket launched it into space for a two-year journey.
‘We won’t yet know whether there is anything, or anyone, there breathing it. Still, this is a remarkable time in human history and a huge leap for our understanding of our place in the universe,’ said Stassun.
Last year, TESS was launched on its two-year mission where it will map 26 segments of the sky.
In its first year of operation, it mapped the 13 sectors that make up the southern sky and this year, it will soon scour the northern sectors.
The high-powered device, which was launched by a rocket from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, shared its first images in August last year — a blanket of stars rendered in never-before-seen clarity.
WHAT IS THE TESS SPACECRAFT?
NASA’s new ‘planet hunter,’ set to be Kepler’s successor, is equipped with four cameras that will allow it to view 85 per cent of the entire sky, as it searches exoplanets orbiting stars less than 300 light-years away.
By studying objects much brighter than the Kepler targets, it’s hoped TESS could uncover new clues on the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.
Its four wide-field cameras will view the sky in 26 segments, each of which it will observe one by one.
In its first year of operation, it will map the 13 sectors that make up the southern sky.
Then, the following year, it will scour the northern sectors.
‘We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars,’ said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA’s Headquarters.
‘TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds whose properties can be probed by NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and other missions.’
Tess is 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide and is shorter than most adults.
The observatory is 4 feet across (1.2 meters), not counting the solar wings, which are folded for launch, and weighs just 800 pounds (362 kilograms).
NASA says it’s somewhere between the size of a refrigerator and a stacked washer and dryer.
Tess will aim for a unique elongated orbit that passes within 45,000 miles of Earth on one end and as far away as the orbit of the moon on the other end.
It will take Tess two weeks to circle Earth.