The newest NASA telescope placed in orbit is called TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite). It is designed to discover planets that pass in front of their host stars blocking small portion of the light normally emitted. TESS was put in orbit April 18, 2018 and is intended to replace the Kepler Telescope that is now out of service. TESS watches the stars in an area 400 times larger than the Kepler Telescope and when a planet passes in front of a star, the overall light emitted is dimmed.
TESS is so sensitive that even minute drops in light intensity are detected and are reflected on a light curve. As part of Planet Hunters the regular public can sign up and analyze light curves. There are so much data produced that the public can sign up to analyze data from TESS as part of the Planet Hunters. I have been a member for several years now. Currently at this writing, I have analyzed the light curves of over 22,400 stars and have detected numerous planet candidates some of which where in-fact determined to be planets. Here are some examples below.
The light curve records the normal variability in light form this star. The red boxes show small dips in the light intensity that could be the result of a small planet passing in front of this star. After these are marked by Planet Hunters, the scientists take a closer look and do some calculations to determine if in fact there is a planet present. This is how the seven planets around TRAPPIST-1 (39 light years from Earth) were discovered. Four of these planets are known to be within the habitable zone of the host white dwarf star. These were discovered by the Spitzer Space Telescope (measuring infrared light) but it discovered them using the same TRANSIT method used here. Some other more obvious transit light curves are show below.
It is extremely satisfying knowing that I am contributing in a small way to the great scientific research being conducted to search for Earth-like planets (and possibly life) within the habitable zones of stars.
Maddalena Environmental Inc.