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NASA’s TESS Discovers New Worlds Only 5 Months After Its Launch

With four special cameras, TESS uses a detection method called transit photometry.

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TESS, rover, NASA, mercuryKeplar, NASA
TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is shown in this conceptual illustration obtained by Reuters on March 28, 2018. NASA sent TESS into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. VOA

A planet-hunting orbital telescope designed to detect worlds beyond our solar system discovered two distant planets this week five months after its launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, officials said on Thursday.

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, better known as TESS, made an early discovery of “super-Earth” and “hot Earth” planets in solar systems at least 49 light-years away, marking the satellite’s first discovery since its April launch.

TESS is on a two-year, $337 million mission to expand astronomers’ known catalog of so-called exoplanets, worlds circling distant stars.

TESS
TESS Deputy Science Director Sara Seager. VOA

While the two planets are too hot to support life, TESS Deputy Science Director Sara Seager expects many more such discoveries.

“We will have to wait and see what else TESS discovers,” Seager told Reuters. “We do know that planets are out there, littering the night sky, just waiting to be found.”

TESS is designed to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which discovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented during the past 20 years and is running out of fuel.

NASA expects to pinpoint thousands more previously unknown worlds, perhaps hundreds of them Earth-sized or “super Earth” sized — no larger than twice as big as our home planet.

Those are believed the most likely to feature rocky surfaces or oceans and are thus considered the best candidates for life to evolve. Scientists have said they hope TESS will ultimately help catalog at least 100 more rocky exoplanets for further study in what has become one of astronomy’s newest fields of exploration.

 

TESS
An artist’s concept provided by NASA shows the Keplar Spacecraft moving through space. VOA

 

MIT researchers on Wednesday announced the discovery of Pi Mensae c, a “super-earth” planet 60 light-years away orbiting its sun every 6.3 days. The discovery of LHS 3844 b, a “hot-earth” planet 49 light-years away that orbits its sun every 11 hours, was announced on Thursday.

Pi Mensae c could have a solid surface or be a waterworld as the composition of such planets is a mixed bag, Martin Spill, NASA’s program scientist for TESS, said in a phone interview.

The two newest planets, which still need to be reviewed by other researchers, offer the chance for follow-up study, officials said.

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“That, of course, is TESS’ entire purpose — to find those planets around those brightest nearby stars to do this really detailed characterization,” Spill said.

With four special cameras, TESS uses a detection method called transit photometry, which looks for periodic dips in the visible light of stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them. (VOA)

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NASA’S Twins Study Claims, Long-term Spaceflight Not Linked to Major Health Risks

"It's almost as if the body's on high alert," said Christopher Mason, Associate Professor at Weill Cornell Medicine.

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NASA
Spending nearly a year in orbit increased NASA astronaut Scott Kelly's immune system response, as if, at the cellular level, his body felt under attack as compared to his Earth-bound twin brother, the Washington Post reported on Friday. Pixabay

While it was previously thought that long duration spaceflight can affect the human body, even at the molecular level, new results from NASAs “Twins Study” has showed that there are no major warning signs and no reason to think humans cannot survive a two-and-a-half-year round-trip journey to Mars.

As part of the “Twins Study”, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year in space while Mark, his identical twin, stayed on Earth as a control subject to look at the effects of space travel on the human body.

Spending nearly a year in orbit increased NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s immune system response, as if, at the cellular level, his body felt under attack as compared to his Earth-bound twin brother, the Washington Post reported on Friday.

NASA
According to report, the biggest concern is radiation as such a mission would expose astronauts to levels of radiation greater than permitted under current guidelines. That would not necessarily prevent a mission, but it remains a concern. Pixabay

These comparisons, however, has not raised any red flags about long-term spaceflight on the International Space Station (ISS), NASA officials were quoted as saying at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science here.

“It’s almost as if the body’s on high alert,” said Christopher Mason, Associate Professor at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The space sojourn also changed the activity of some of his genes.

“It’s mostly really good news,” Mason said, adding, “the body has extraordinary plasticity and adaptation to being in zero gravity, at least for a year”.

NASA
“It’s almost as if the body’s on high alert,” said Christopher Mason, Associate Professor at Weill Cornell Medicine. Pixabay

According to Craig Kundrot, Director of NASA’s space life and physical sciences division, so far the space agency’s research found nothing that would make a Mars mission impossible.

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According to report, the biggest concern is radiation as such a mission would expose astronauts to levels of radiation greater than permitted under current guidelines. That would not necessarily prevent a mission, but it remains a concern.

However, Kundrot cautioned that the twin study has only two people as samples. “We don’t regard any of this as conclusive, but on the whole it’s encouraging,” he said, adding, “there are no new major warning signs”. (IANS)