How unique is our solar system? This is a question that scientists have been trying to answer for a long time. It is also the question that Natalia Guerrero posed during her keynote address at Lincoln Laboratory’s Hispanic Heritage Month event on October 8.
Guerrero is a researcher from MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research and the MIT communications lead for NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission. TESS is a space telescope that launched in April 2018 on a mission to find exoplanets, or planets that orbit stars outside our solar system. She manages a team that identifies potential planets out of a sea of stars using data from TESS’s images.
In her keynote address, she discussed TESS’s most recent discoveries, as well as how learning about exoplanets will lead to a better understanding of where Earth belongs in the wide variety of possible worlds. “TESS has huge potential for giving us a glimpse of a vast expanse of sky at any given time,” said Guerrero. She explained that exoplanets are statistically very common — for every star, there is likely at least one planet in its orbit.
TESS detects these distant planets by observing the faint dimming of a star as an orbiting planet passes between it and the Earth. To make these detections, TESS uses four charge-coupled device cameras that were developed at Lincoln Laboratory. Since its launch, TESS has discovered 1,288 planet candidates from 15 sectors of the sky, with 29 of those now officially registered as planets.
After her keynote, Guerrero said that she enjoyed drawing on the link between MIT and the Laboratory while developing TESS: “It was a beautiful thing, being able to take advantage of the existing bridge between MIT and the Laboratory while extending my own MIT network to new connections at the Laboratory. I’ve always appreciated and valued the quality of the TESS instrument, so it is exciting to see where its parts were made.”
Image caption: Natalia Guerrero, technical staff at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, delivers the keynote address at the Laboratory’s Hispanic Heritage Month event.
Photo: Nicole Fandel
Image caption_group photo: Natalia Guerrero, technical staff at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, delivers the keynote address at the Laboratory’s Hispanic Heritage Month event.
Photo: Nicole Fandel