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FGCU students excited to work on TESS satellite research project

FGCU students excited to work on TESS project
Posted at 10:00 PM, May 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-23 08:14:15-04

ESTERO, Fla. - Students at Florida Gulf Coast University are reaching for the stars. They'll soon be studying data sent back from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, better known as TESS for short. 

Their professor, Derek Buzasi, attended TESS' launch from Kennedy Space Center  on Cape Canaveral in April.

PHOTOS: TESS launch set up at Cape Canaveral

"Launches are always amazing but especially magical when you are connected with it," says Buzasi, whose students are an active part of his project.  "My FGCU students are involved in pretty much all the research that I do," he says. 

FGCU Junior Hannah Andrews says she considers herself fortunate to be involved.  "It's really special to be a part of this opportunity and this research, says Hannah who admits she was nervous about the launch. 

"This is our future project, and so I mean  those are our papers going up into the sky.  So if it fails, we'll have to wait quite a while to get that research," she says.

The students and professor Buzasi will soon they'll be getting information from TESS as it takes pictures of the sky one section at a time.

"Basically every two weeks the spacecraft looks back at the earth and dumps its data down to the Earth," says Buzasi who holds the title of Whitaker Eminent Scholar at FGCU's Department of Chemistry and Physics

The data will give the FGCU students a peek a previously unseen parts of the universe.

"It comes down as something no one's done before and no one's seen before and that's pretty exciting - especially if you're 19 and [have only] been in college for a year," he says. 

The professor and his students are learning more about what are called "high mass" stars. 

You might think of them as "James Deans" of the star world.  "They kind of operate under the live fast, die young model," says Buzasi. 

He and his students are focusing on how those stars affect the exoplanets that revolve around them. NASA says that focus is key to future exploration.

"By learning about what stars are doing to a planet, we can learn if a planet is habitable, says NASA project scientist Tom Barclay.

Dr. Buzasi is quick to point out the TESS mission is not expected to reveal signs of life in the universe.

But NASA says it's a big step in that direction.  "I think a lot of people are excited about the idea that this is part of the of path toward searching for life out there," says NASA project scientist Stephen Rinehart.

And Dr. Buzasi says the data collected now will be crucial parts of that path of discovery. 

"All that kind of heads on in the direction of can we find signs of life," says Buzasi who adds he's as excited as anyone to find the answer to the big question about the rest of the universe. 

"Can we find signs of intelligent life?" says Buzasi.

For now, he and his students will push the limits of their own intelligence to sort through new discoveries of the universe on their low-key - but proud - campus.

"A lot of people, I think, underestimate FGCU as a school," says student Hannah Andrews.  "We're not that big of a school," she says.

"And so an opportunity like this that puts FGCU on the map."