NASA's positive on next planet-hunting mission launch

Space hunter: Scientists pin alien exoplanet hopes to NASA's latest sky scanner (VIDEO)

Once in orbit, TESS will spend about two years surveying 200,000 of the brightest stars near the sun to search for planets outside our solar system.

In total, TESS researchers hope that the refrigerator-sized satellite will be able to detect about 50 planets that might be similar in size to our Earth.

NASA's new planet hunting telescope promises to change that.

On Monday, April 16, 2018, NASA will launch their new TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey) satellite to search for alien planets orbiting distant stars.

"They're going to become not just names in a catalog - they're going to become destinations, they're going to take on personalities", Batalha said of those planetary profiles. "Our number of exoplanets is going to go through the roof". There's historical information on pioneering missions and space explorers, too.

If TESS observes a periodic dimming of light from a particular star, it's reasonable to infer that the star is being orbited by at least one alien world.

The first year of observations will cover 13 sectors encompassing the southern sky and the second year will map the remaining 13 sectors of the northern sky.

"In 30-minute samples, Kepler was able to look at about 170,000 stars".

And that means a lot more planets.

So, how will TESS perform its alien planet hunt?

The mission is particularly interested in finding planets orbiting red dwarf stars.

"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".

That work will require telescopes to examine the tiny fraction of starlight that passes through a planet's thin shell of atmosphere (if it has one) and look for the fingerprints of life-friendly molecules like free oxygen, methane and water. More than 500,000 stars will come under its gaze during its two-year lifespan. "They appear to be everywhere we look".

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Staring at bigger patches of the sky will also make it easier to see when stars blow up, says ANU's Dr Tucker, who studies supernovas found by Kepler.

But the Holy Grail for Professor Ricker would be to discover something completely unpredictable.

Once NASA's TESS satellite does locate more of these exoplanets, the real fun begins.

Artist's illustration of TESS in space.

From there, astronomers will follow up TESS's discoveries using ground-based telescopes as well as other space telescopes such as the future James Webb Space Telescope.

The little yellow patches are Kepler's various fields of view.

"We're on this scenic tour of the whole sky, and in some ways we have no idea what we will see".

"It has a spectrograph inside it with fibres that can position themselves called star bugs".

It does this by analysing the brightness of transit or moving stars.

SpaceX is the launch partner, and the Falcon 9 rocket on which it will ride into orbit has already been test fired. Together, the cameras will stare at a vertical strip of the celestial sphere stretching from the pole to the equator, proceeding to a new strip every 27 days. The orbit is so stable that the spacecraft it won't need to guzzle fuel to keep itself in place.

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. "Now, go after them".

Kepler's mission, in the meantime, is slowly drawing to an end.

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