Kepler spacecraft was launched in 2009 to discover exoplanets. Since then, it was able to discover 2,000 exoplanets in the galaxy. But, the mission managers expect that Kepler would run out of fuel in the coming months.
For that reason, filling the shoes of the spacecraft would not be easy and simple. Despite the hassles, the agency has been taking different approaches for its planet-hunting mission in the near future. The agency has plans to launch another spacecraft called as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite on April 16 this year. It is specially designed to examine 200,000 bright stars to identify potential signs of other orbiting planets. Despite the $337 million budget, NASA expects that it will not perform like Kepler. It will find fewer worlds than the said spacecraft. However, it still provides an important information that can change the future.
Sara Seager, an astrophysicist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, said that the number of planets is not too important. What matters the most is the fact that they are orbiting at nearby stars. TESS has particularly made to distinguish planets that are close to Earth. When the satellite finds any, the astronomers will have the chance to explore them fully.
Unlike the thousands of exoplanets that the Kepler discovered, the team scientists only estimate 500 planets to be scrutinized by TESS. All of these worlds will be a subject for studies in the future. “There will be a new opening of different exoplanet studies,” she added.
According to recent research, TESS may yield more exoplanets than once thought. Early 2018, Sarah Ballard, an MIT astronomer, re-calculated how many exoplanets that the satellite might find orbiting stars. She predicted that it going to be 990, not 500.
The volume of future discoveries would allow different astronomers to start comparing classes of exoplanets. Aside from that, it would give the experts an insight how flares affect any planetary atmospheres or what kind of planet that surrounds stars.
The spacecraft will soon be followed by Characterising Exoplanet Satellite by the European Space Agency to measure the sizes of planets. In the 2020s, it also has plans to launch PLATO and ARIEL. The former is to study exoplanets with sizes like the Earth while the latter is to study any planetary atmospheres.
The future missions will just come in time. While Kepler is on its final discoveries, let’s hope that TESS would be a success.