NASA's TESS spacecraft is finding hundreds of exoplanets – and is poised to find thousands more

Benjamin Rackham (MIT), Daniel Apai (UArizona) | The Conversation
Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Read the full story in The Conversation.

"These are exciting times for astronomers and, especially, for those of us exploring exoplanets," write astronomers Benjamin Rackham (MIT EAPS), Daniel Apai (UArizona) in The Conversation.

Both the transit method and the wobble method have been used to identify thousands of exoplanets and look for an exo-Earth. "The exoplanet-hunting telescope TESS has identified more than 1,200 planetary candidates, 29 of which astronomers have already confirmed as planets. [With the mission extended, scientists] expect the TESS to identify between 10,000 and 15,000 exoplanet candidates by 2025." Other telescopes and agencies are also contributing to the search for an exo-Earth. TRAPPIST and Hubble have already found interesting exoplanets, a hot super-Earth and planets around a red dwarf star. "By 2030, the European Space Agency’s GAIA and PLATO missions are expected to find another 20,000-35,000 planets. GAIA will look for stellar wobbles introduced by planets, while PLATO will search for planetary transits as TESS does."

Rackham and Apai are also on searching the skies. "We are members of the planet-hunting Project EDEN, which also supports TESS’s work. We use telescopes on the ground and in space to find exoplanets to understand their properties and potential for harboring life."

Two projects have upped up the game in the search for exo-Earth candidates around nearby red dwarfs. The SPECULOOS team installed four robotic telescopes – also in the Atacama desert – and one in the Northern Hemisphere. Our Exoearth Discovery and Exploration Network – Project EDEN – uses nine telescopes in Arizona, Italy, Spain and Taiwan to observe red dwarf stars continuously.

The SPECULOOS and EDEN telescopes are much larger than TESS’s small lenses and can find planets around stars too faint for TESS to study, including some of the transiting Earth-sized planets closest to us.

Story Image: This artist’s impression shows a view of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the solar system. (Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)