NASA Spacecraft TESS Discovers New Distant World

Spacecraft has picked up where agency's former planet hunter, Kepler, left off.

An artistic rendering of NASA’s TESS spacecraft observing this new exoplanet. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

Fifty three light-years away from Earth, a new world has been discovered by NASA’s TESS satellite.

TESS, a spacecraft about the size of a refrigerator, was launched into Earth’s orbit in April 2018. Unlike Kepler, NASA’s former planet hunter, the TESS satellite sticks close to Earth (Kepler was 100 million miles away when she ran out of fuel this past October), but searches the fast emptiness of space in the same way as the Kepler satellite did: “They look for tiny dips in a distant star’s light, whenever a planet crosses in front and momentarily blocks part of the star,” The Verge reports.

There is one major difference between TESS and the retired Kepler devices: TESS is looking for exoplanets close to Earth.

These planets’ proximity to Earth make them easier to study. Diana Dragomir, a postdoc student at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research explains: “The important thing about this system that’s especially unique is it’s near to us,” Dragomir told The Verge. “What that means simply is we can study this system in detail. We can measure the mass of the planet and measure things about the star.”

This makes the third exoplanet that TESS has found since her launch. However, this third planet orbits a dwarf, a type of star much smaller than our Sun, but orbits it from much further away than the previous two discovered planets.

“This is what TESS is designed to do: find these small planets around nearby stars, so now we can get their mass and get access to their atmospheres,” Dragomir said.

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