The search for other Earths

Alvin Powell in the Harvard Gazette:

ScreenHunter_355 Oct. 12 09.05Scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) are among those drafting the target list for NASA’s next planet-finding telescope, the orbiting Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which will search the Earth’s galactic neighborhood for planets that might support life.

TESS cleared a major hurdle in April, gaining NASA approval for final design and implementation. Pending a series of reviews, TESS is expected to launch sometime in early 2018 and focus on Earth’s stellar neighbors, 500,000 of the nearest and brightest stars. Their proximity will raise the chances for follow-up observations of systems that show the telltale dimming in starlight that indicates a planet is crossing the star’s face.

Harvard-Smithsonian astronomer David Latham, the project’s science director, said the CfA’s work eventually will involve as many as 36 scientists, fellows, and students, as well as possibly hundreds more from around the world who will pore over data, which will be released publicly within months of being collected.

“These are the nearest and best and brightest examples of transiting planets we’ll ever have, at least from the Earth,” Latham said.

More here.