TESS space probe offers a chance to find alien life says NASA astrobiologist | Science | News

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Dr Vladimir Airapetian made his comments after the NASA probe was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral last Wednesday, with a mission to scan the sky for exoplanets, meaning planets existing outside our own solar system.

The launch came days after a NASA symposium entitled Environments of Terrestrial Planets Under the Young Sun: Seeds of Biomolecules, attended by more than 100 scientists who discussed the various factors which influenced the development of life on Earth.

And Dr Airepetian, whose work with the space agency involves making use of numerous branches of science to investigate the possibility of life on other worlds, is eagerly awaiting a treasure trove of fresh data from TESS, which stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.

NASA’s Kepler satellite, which was launched in 2009, was previously the main source of information about exoplanets, having confirmed the existence of more than 2,300.

However, Kepler is fixed on one fixed area representing 0.25 percent of the sky, whereas TESS will be able to scan 95 percent, vastly improving its field of vision.

And Dr Airapetian is eagerly awaiting a data bonanza as a result.

He said: “TESS will be the next step after Kepler in our understanding the occurrence rate of terrestrial and giant planets around solar-type and M dwarfs in the solar neighborhood.

“While Kepler looked at one fixed part of the sky (0.25 percent of the sky) and detected thousands of exoplanets and superflares from planet hosting stars, its detected exoplanets are pretty far from us which makes it difficult to observe in details and characterise exoplanetary atmospheres for the signatures of life.

“TESS is the next step in our detection of exoplanets at distances of 20-50 light years, which will increase the signal by at least a factor of 100.

“TESS is a space telescope which is smaller than Kepler, but its power in its ability to observe wider, 360 degrees around us and detect close-by exoplanetary systems rather than just point in one portion of the sky.”

The probe’s goal is to study close-by exoplanets orbiting M dwarfs and solar like stars much like our own.

Dr Airapetian saying he and fellow scientists were hoping for a haul of 20,000 new worlds – dwarfing Kepler’s total.

He said: “There are Earth-like stars and M dwarfs which are comparatively close to us which we have not had a chance to look at because they were not within Kepler’s field of vision.

“I have developed a list of close-by stars resembling our Sun at 300, 650 and 1000 million years old. 

“I want to find an exoplanet like Earth when our planet was “pregnant” with life.”

TESS had “amplified the signal dramatically”, he added, offering a chance to “detect the first steps of life”.

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