Video: Overview of the TESS mission to look for exoplanets around nearby stars

Dr. George Ricker is the Principle Investigator of the TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) Mission, which will succeed Kepler as the primary US space observatory looking for exoplanets. He reviews the mission, which will launch in 2017, in this video:

From the caption:

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 will monitor 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 from Earth-sized to gas giants, around a wide range of stellar types and orbital distances.

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. These objects will include more than 1 million stars and bright galaxies observed during sessions of several weeks. In total, more than 30 million objects brighter than magnitude I=16 will be precisely photometered during the two-year prime mission. In principle, the lunar-resonant TESS orbit could provide opportunities for an extended mission lasting more than a decade, with data rates in excess of 100 Mbits/s.

An extended 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 of the future.

A NASA Guest Investigator program is planned 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.

TESS is currently targeted for launch in late 2017 as a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission.


The Space Show 2016 Fund Raising Campaign

A message from David Livingston of The Space Show:

The Space Show / One Giant Leap Foundation
2016 Annual Fund Raising Campaign
OGLF 2016 Annual Fund Raising Campaign
December 16, 2016
Dear Space Show Listeners:
Re: 2016 Annual Space Show/One Giant Leap Foundation Fundraising Drive
Christmas is literally just around the corner so once again, please let me wish all of you very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. To me, the time has gone by this year faster than a rocket going to orbit. Do you feel the same way? Overall, it seems to me to have been a growth year for commercial space, even on a positive legislative front. Let’s all work to see commercial space continue to expand for 2017.
I want to thank all of you who have so generously supported The Space Show/One Giant Leap Foundation (OGLF) during this and previous years. Your past support has definitely kept The Space Show going, even in these challenging economic times. Without sounding weird or over the top, there simply would be no Space Show without your support. I want each and everyone of you to know that and to know just how much everyone who listens to The Space Show appreciates your support as well but for me, it is personal, it is humbling and very rewarding. Thank you again and again and again.
Our annual fund raising has less than two weeks to go as we are rapidly approaching 2017 full speed ahead. We continue to need your support in these last days of our campaign.   As you finalize your 2016 budgets, end of the year expenses and gifts, please remember and support us.
The Space Show operates under the 501C3 nonprofit model. We do not accept advertising or fees from guests to be on the program, even from the many repeat guests on the show that are afforded nearly unlimited self-promotion exposure for guest books, websites, ideas, theories, and work related to space activities of all sorts. This year we also accepted a special category of sponsors for our updated website. Given our nonprofit model, The Space Show relies entirely upon listener support for its continued operation and programming, and in being able to keep our content free and available to everyone on the internet on a global basis. This includes all our programs going back to our start in 2001. Given our policy on making all our programs available, we do need your help to continue our operations and programming. Space Show programs are costly to produce live and archive, plus remember, we keep all our shows active and available to you on our website. Your support for The Space Show/One Giant Leap Foundation is vital to our continued operation, success and for many of you, to the nearly unlimited promotion of your work.
We understand that you have choices in making your year end tax deductible contributions and we certainly appreciate your including us in your gifting priorities. 2016 is quickly coming to a close. Now is the time to support The Space Show/OGLF by making your contribution . As a 501C3 nonprofit, if you pay U.S. federal taxes, you get a tax deduction for your gift as permitted by law. The same is true for those of you paying California taxes. I recommend that you check with your tax adviser regarding any and all tax questions. You are also encouraged to contact me with your questions and comments about the show or your support. Above all, please remember that we do need and appreciate your support
You can make your donation online using Pay Pal by clicking on the right side of our home page at or Simply click on the Pay Pal logo. If you prefer mailing a check, please make your check payable to One Giant Leap Foundation, Inc. and mail it in care of me to P.O. Box 95, Tiburon, CA 94920 USA. Remember, your gift makes The Space Show programming and all of the services such as the toll free line, archives, podcasts, email, and our blog possible.
Thank you for your support. I look forward to sharing the New Year with you through The Space Show and the One Giant Leap Foundation, Inc. Please contact me at if you have any questions. Let’s all work to make 2017 a banner year for space, prosperity, health, and peace around the world.
Sincerely, yours,
Dr. David Livingston
The Space Show

One Giant Leap Foundation, Inc.

Dawn Mission: More evidence for subterranean ice layer on Ceres

The latest findings and imagery from the Dawn probe orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt:

Where is the Ice on Ceres? New NASA Dawn Findings 

Measurements by Dawn instruments indicate the concentrations of hydrogen in the surface of Ceres. In this image, the color scale gives hydrogen content in water-equivalent units, which assumes all of the hydrogen is in the form of H2O. Blue indicates where hydrogen content is higher, near the poles, while red indicates lower content at lower latitudes. Find images, animations and more info here.

At first glance, Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt, may not look icy. Images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft have revealed a dark, heavily cratered world whose brightest area is made of highly reflective salts — not ice. But newly published studies from Dawn scientists show two distinct lines of evidence for ice at or near the surface of the dwarf planet. Researchers are presenting these findings at the 2016 American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

“These studies support the idea that ice separated from rock early in Ceres’ history, forming an ice-rich crustal layer, and that ice has remained near the surface over the history of the solar system,”

said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator of the Dawn mission, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Water ice on other planetary bodies is important because it is an essential ingredient for life as we know it.

“By finding bodies that were water-rich in the distant past, we can discover clues as to where life may have existed in the early solar system,” Raymond said.

Ice is everywhere on Ceres

Ceres’ uppermost surface is rich in hydrogen, with higher concentrations at mid-to-high latitudes — consistent with broad expanses of water ice, according to a new study in the journal Science.

“On Ceres, ice is not just localized to a few craters. It’s everywhere, and nearer to the surface with higher latitudes,”

said Thomas Prettyman, principal investigator of Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND), based at the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona.

Researchers used the GRaND instrument to determine the concentrations of hydrogen, iron and potassium in the uppermost yard (or meter) of Ceres. GRaND measures the number and energy of gamma rays and neutrons emanating from Ceres. Neutrons are produced as galactic cosmic rays interact with Ceres’ surface. Some neutrons get absorbed into the surface, while others escape. Since hydrogen slows down neutrons, it is associated with fewer neutrons escaping. On Ceres, hydrogen is likely to be in the form of frozen water (which is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom).

Rather than a solid ice layer, there is likely to be a porous mixture of rocky materials in which ice fills the pores, researchers found. The GRaND data show that the mixture is about 10 percent ice by weight.

“These results confirm predictions made nearly three decades ago that ice can survive for billions of years just beneath the surface of Ceres,” Prettyman said. “The evidence strengthens the case for the presence of near-surface water ice on other main belt asteroids.”

Clues to Ceres’ inner life

Concentrations of iron, hydrogen, potassium and carbon provide further evidence that the top layer of material covering Ceres was altered by liquid water in Ceres’ interior. Scientists theorize that the decay of radioactive elements within Ceres produced heat that drove this alteration process, separating Ceres into a rocky interior and icy outer shell. Separation of ice and rock would lead to differences in the chemical composition of Ceres’ surface and interior.

Because meteorites called carbonaceous chondrites were also altered by water, scientists are interested in comparing them to Ceres. These meteorites probably come from bodies that were smaller than Ceres, but had limited fluid flow, so they may provide clues to Ceres’ interior history. The Science study shows that Ceres has more hydrogen and less iron than these meteorites, perhaps because denser particles sunk while brine-rich materials rose to the surface. Alternatively, Ceres or its components may have formed in a different region of the solar system than the meteorites.

Ice in permanent shadow

Images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows a crater in the northern polar region of Ceres that is partly in shadow year-round. In several craters like this one, bright water ice deposits have been observed by Dawn’s framing camera. This finding suggests that water ice can be stored for significant amounts of time in cold, dark craters on Ceres. Such reserviors are called “cold traps.” At less than minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit (110 Kelvin), they are so chilly that very little of the ice turns into vapor in the course of a billion years. Find gif animation, images, and more info here.

A second study, led by Thomas Platz of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany, and published in the journal Nature Astronomy, focused on craters that are persistently in shadow in Ceres’ northern hemisphere. Scientists closely examined hundreds of cold, dark craters called “cold traps” — at less than minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit (110 Kelvin), they are so chilly that very little of the ice turns into vapor in the course of a billion years. Researchers found deposits of bright material in 10 of these craters. In one crater that is partially sunlit, Dawn’s infrared mapping spectrometer confirmed the presence of ice.

This suggests that water ice can be stored in cold, dark craters on Ceres. Ice in cold traps has previously been spotted on Mercury and, in a few cases, on the moon. All of these bodies have small tilts with respect to their axes of rotation, so their poles are extremely cold and peppered with persistently shadowed craters. Scientists believe impacting bodies may have delivered ice to Mercury and the moon. The origins of Ceres’ ice in cold traps are more mysterious, however.

“We are interested in how this ice got there and how it managed to last so long,” said co-author Norbert Schorghofer of the University of Hawaii. “It could have come from Ceres’ ice-rich crust, or it could have been delivered from space.”

Regardless of its origin, water molecules on Ceres have the ability to hop around from warmer regions to the poles. A tenuous water atmosphere has been suggested by previous research, including the Herschel Space Observatory’s observations of water vapor at Ceres in 2012-13. Water molecules that leave the surface would fall back onto Ceres, and could land in cold traps. With every hop there is a chance the molecule is lost to space, but a fraction of them ends up in the cold traps, where they accumulate.

‘Bright spots’ get names

This video shows the intriguing Occator Crater on Ceres, home to the dwarf planet’s brightest area. It may have been produced by upwelling of salt-rich liquids after the impact that formed the crater. The animated flyover includes topographic and enhanced-color views of the crater, highlighting the central dome feature. The animation was produced by the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Original music by Stefan Elgner, DLR.

Ceres’ brightest area, in the northern-hemisphere crater Occator, does not shine because of ice, but rather because of highly reflective salts. A new video produced by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin simulates the experience of flying around this crater and exploring its topography. Occator’s central bright region, which includes a dome with fractures, has recently been named Cerealia Facula. The crater’s cluster of less reflective spots to the east of center is called Vinalia Faculae.

“The unique interior of Occator may have formed in a combination of processes that we are currently investigating,” said Ralf Jaumann, planetary scientist and Dawn co-investigator at DLR. “The impact that created the crater could have triggered the upwelling of liquid from inside Ceres, which left behind the salts.”

Dawn’s next steps

Dawn began its extended mission phase in July, and is currently flying in an elliptical orbit more than 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers) from Ceres. During the primary mission, Dawn orbited and accomplished all of its original objectives at Ceres and protoplanet Vesta, which the spacecraft visited from July 2011 to September 2012.

Dawn’s mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team. For a complete list of mission participants, visit:

More information about Dawn is available at the following sites:

Video: Air-launched Pegasus rocket orbits eight satellites for hurricane studies

This morning Orbital ATK successfully air-launched a Pegasus XL rocket from a L-1011 aircraft. The rocket deployed eight small satellites for the CYGNSS (Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System) mission, which will study tropical storms by using the way GPS signals are affected by the atmosphere. (See the CYGNSS Science page on the site of the Univ. of Michigan team that is in charge of the project.)

Everyone can participate in space