Unlocking the Secrets of Nearby Exoplanets with NASA’s TESS Mission
Space Telescope Science Institute Bahcall Auditorium 3700 San Martin Drive Baltimore, MD 21218
12:00 PM - 2:30 PM
George Ricker (MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research)
Successfully launched in April 2018, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will discover thousands of exoplanets in orbit around the brightest stars in the sky. In its two-year prime survey mission, TESS is monitoring more than 200,000 bright stars in the solar neighborhood for temporary drops in brightness caused by planetary transits. This first-ever spaceborne all-sky transit survey will identify planets ranging in size from Earth-sized to gas giants, orbiting a wide variety of host stars, ranging from cool M dwarfs to hot O/B giants. TESS stars will typically be 30-100 times brighter than those surveyed by the Kepler satellite; thus, TESS planets will be far easier to characterize with follow-up observations. For the first time it will be possible to study the masses, sizes, densities, orbits, and atmospheres of a large cohort of small planets, including a sample of rocky worlds in the habitable zones of their host stars. An additional data product from the TESS mission will be full frame images (FFI) with a cadence of 30 minutes. These FFI will provide precise photometric information for every object within the 2300 square degree instantaneous field of view of the TESS cameras. In total, nearly 100 million objects brighter than magnitude I=16 will be precisely photometered during the two-year prime mission. TESS’s unique lunar-resonant orbit should provide opportunities for an extended mission lasting more than a decade. A deep survey by TESS of regions surrounding the North and South Ecliptic Poles will provide prime exoplanet targets for characterization with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), as well as other large ground-based and space-based telescopes coming online in the next two decades. A NASA Guest Investigator program is underway for TESS. The TESS legacy will be a catalog of the nearest and brightest main-sequence stars hosting transiting exoplanets, which should endure as the most favorable targets for detailed future investigations. Initial results from the first few months of the TESS mission will be presented.