TESS - short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite - will search the sky to examine thousands of stars, sending vital information back to scientists on Earth to help them find planets that may be like our own.
If all goes well with the launch and calibration phases of the mission, the first haul of new planets found by TESS could be announced later this year. Bigger and more powerful observatories of the future will scrutinize these prime candidates for potential signs of life.
"There's no science that will tell us life is out there right now, except that small rocky planets appear to be incredibly common", Seager said.
Eastern time from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
TESS has a mirror diameter of 6.5 meters, which allows it to gather much more light than it can capture the Hubble Space Telescope. "Using TESS data, missions like the James Webb Space Telescope can determine specific characteristics of these planets, including whether they could support life".
The data will be collected during a two-year period in which TESS will survey the entire sky by breaking it into 26 equal sectors.
TESS is created to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which discovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented by astronomers during the past 20 years and is about to run out of fuel. These so-called "transits" may mean that planets are in orbit around them. NASA's new exoplanet hunter will train its sights on nearer, brighter stars than its predecessors did.
Just like the Kepler spacecraft launched by NASA in March 2009, TESS will scan the galaxies for exoplanets. She added by saying that " We might even find planets that orbit stars that we can even see with the naked eye".
"We're going to look at every single one of those stars", said the mission's chief scientist George Ricker of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There are far more planets in the Milky Way than there are stars. "Oxygen is our best biosignature gas on Earth", Seager said, so we're looking for what we know.
TESS will begin by looking at the Southern Hemisphere sky for the first year and move to the Northern Hemisphere in the second year.
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