Watch launch of TESS planet-hunting mission April 16

NASA's positive on next planet-hunting mission launch

Some of the most exciting space news of the past few years has been about Earth-like exoplanets that could one day (or perhaps already do) support life.

Monday, NASA will launch an experimental satellite with a mission to find new earth-like planets outside of our solar system.

"We should be able to find 20,000 planets of all sizes ranging from Jupiter-sized planets to planets the size of Earth or even the size of Mars".

Equipped with four specialized cameras, TESS will be able to gaze at 85 percent of the entire sky, according to reports. The more light, the more data, and often the less noise - researchers will be able to tell more about stars that are observed, and if necessary dedicate other ground or space resources towards observing them.

While the first confirmed detection of exoplanets outside our solar system was not until 1992, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has now detected 2,300 of these planets.

"We expect TESS will discover a number of planets whose atmospheric compositions, which hold potential clues to the presence of life, could be precisely measured by future observers".

TESS's predecessor, the Keppler Space Telescope, is a planet-hunting space telescope that was launched by NASA in 2009. But Kepler is crippled and is running out of fuel.

NASA's Kepler spacecraft used the same method to spot more than 2,600 confirmed exoplanets, a lot of them orbiting faint stars 300 to 3,000 light-years away.

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The spacecraft will be looking for a phenomenon known as a transit, where a planet passes in front of its star, causing a periodic and regular dip in the star's brightness.

With Monday's launch by NASA and SpaceX of the new TESS satellite, many new worlds may soon be opening up as scientists boldly begin the next step in the search for exoplanets and alien life.

TESS will also take wide-field photos of a large portion of the sky every 30 minutes.

"We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars", he said. But since the 13 observation strips in each hemisphere overlap at the poles, TESS will have eyes on both the northern and southern polar skies for almost a year at a time.

It is hoped that TESS will be able to locate other planets that resemble Earth in important ways, and Seager believes we have a fairly good chance of finding these planets with the new satellite. In a few years - if TESS's two-year mission is extended long enough - it could eventually find the kinds of rocky, habitable-zone planets that Kepler could.

With the help of a gravitational assist from the Moon, the spacecraft will settle into a 13.7-day orbit around Earth, NASA said in an earlier statement.

"TESS is going to essentially provide the catalog, like the phone book, if you will, of all the best planets for following up, for looking at their atmospheres and studying more about them."

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