TAMPA, UNITED STATES: NASA is poised to launch a $337 million washing machine-sized spacecraft that aims to vastly expand mankind's search for planets beyond our solar system, particularly closer, Earth-sized ones that might harbor life.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, is scheduled to launch Monday at 6:32 pm (2232 GMT) atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Its main goal over the next two years is to scan more than 200,000 of the brightest stars for signs of planets circling them and causing a dip in brightness known as a transit.

NASA predicts that TESS will discover 20,000 exoplanets -- or planets outside the solar system -- including more than 50 Earth-sized planets and up to 500 planets less than twice the size of Earth.

"They are going to be orbiting the nearest, brightest stars," Elisa Quintana, TESS scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told reporters on Sunday.

"We might even find planets that orbit stars that we can even see with the naked eye," she added.

"So in the next few years we might even be able to walk outside and point at a star and know that it has a planet. This is the future."

TESS is designed as a follow-on to the US space agency's Kepler spacecraft, which was the first of its kind and launched in 2009. Now, the aging spacecraft is low on fuel and near the end of its life.

Kepler found a massive trove of exoplanets by focusing on one patch of sky, which contained about 150,000 stars like the Sun.

The Kepler mission found 2,300 confirmed exoplanets and nearly 4,500 candidates. But many were too distant and dim to study further.

TESS, with its four advanced cameras, will scan an area that is 350 times larger, comprising 85 percent of the sky in the first two years alone.

"By looking at such a large section of the sky -- this kind of stellar real estate -- we open up the ability to cherry-pick the best stars to do follow up science," said Jenn Burt, a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

"On average the stars that TESS finds observes be 30-100 times brighter and 10 times closer than the stars that Kepler focused on."

Since TESS uses the same method as Kepler for finding potential planets, by tracking the dimming of light when a celestial body passes in front of a star, the next step is for ground-based and space telescopes to peer closer.

The Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space telescope, scheduled to launch in 2020, should be able to reveal more about planets' mass, density and the makeup of their atmosphere.

"TESS forms a bridge from what we have learned about exoplanets to date and where we are headed in the future," said Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

By focusing on planets dozens to hundreds of light-years way, TESS should be a stepping stone to future breakthroughs, he said.

"With the hope that someday, in the next decades, we will be able to identify the potential for life to exist outside the solar system."

Weather was expected to be 80 percent favorable for launch.

 

 

Let the Truth be known. If you read VB and like VB, please be a VB Supporter and Help us deliver the Truth to one and all.



New Delhi, Jul 22: The government on Monday cited an inter-ministerial group report prepared in 2012 to assert that a case for granting special category status to Bihar is not made out; a stand which came a day after BJP's allies from Bihar demanded the status for the backward state.

In a written reply in the Lok Sabha on the first day of the Monsoon session, Minister of State for Finance Pankaj Chaudhary said special category status was granted in the past by the National Development Council (NDC) to some states which were characterised by a number of features necessitating special consideration.

These included hilly and difficult terrain, low population density or sizeable share of tribal population, strategic location along borders with neighbouring countries, economic and infrastructural backwardness and non-viable nature of state finances, he said in reply to a question asked by JD(U) member Rampreet Mandal.

The decision was taken based on an integrated consideration of all the factors listed above and the peculiar situation of a state, the minister said.

"Earlier, the request of Bihar for Special Category Status was considered by an Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) which submitted its Report on 30th March 2012. The IMG came to the finding that based on existing NDC criteria, the case for Special Category Status for Bihar is not made out," the minister said.

The Congress-led UPA was in power at the time.

JD(U) leader Sanjay Kumar Jha had voiced his party's demand for the status at an all-party meeting on Sunday. The Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas), also a BJP ally, and the opposition RJD echoed the same demand at the meeting.

The JD(U), though, has already conveyed to the Centre that it is willing to settle for a special financial package in case the status cannot be granted to the state.

The BJD and the YSR Congress had made the same demand for Odisha and Andhra Pradesh respectively in the meeting.

The government has in the past also argued that the 14th Finance Commission report has ruled out the possibility of any more states being granted the status, which includes tax relief and higher central funding for the beneficiary states.