Watch NASA Launch TESS, Its Latest Planet Hunter

Watch NASA Launch TESS, Its Latest Planet Hunter

Watch NASA Launch TESS, Its Latest Planet Hunter

NASA is on the hunt for new planets, and with luck, that journey will begin today.

Kepler was created to do its work in the most boring way possible: by staring unblinking at a single ten-degree by ten-degree square in the 360-degree bowl of the sky, looking for the tiny dimming of light that occurs when an orbiting planet passes in front of its star.

The planned launch of TESS comes on the heels of NASA delaying the liftoff of its hotly-anticipated James Webb Space Telescope.

"TESS is going to dramatically increase the number of planets that we have to study", said Ricker.

About 50 are believed to potentially habitable. TESS will survey the local neighborhood for planets like Earth.

The Tess satellite will scan nearly the entire sky, staring at the brightest, closest stars in an effort to find any planets that might be encircling them.

Since NASA's Kepler spacecraft launched in 2009, the space agency has found and confirmed a whopping 2343 new planets. This enabled researchers to discover even more exoplanets, understand the evolution of stars and gain insight about supernovae and black holes. TESS will transmit data each time it passes closest to Earth, above the orbit of geosynchronous weather and communications satellites.

The spacecraft will look for minuscule dips in the light of those stars that would indicate that a planet passed between its star and the telescope, blocking out a bit of the star's light from TESS's perspective.

From just that brightness data, TESS scientists will be able to differentiate between real planets and false signals like those caused by debris or instrument flukes. By studying the "output" rays scientists can determine the content of the planet's atmosphere.

It will be the most extensive survey of its kind from orbit, with Tess, a galactic scout, combing the neighbourhood as never before. The light can then be split to show which gases are present in the planet's atmosphere. "Now, we're doing it".

"TESS is helping us explore our place in the universe", said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters. "And water vapor is a sign of surface water".

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Many products of biology can also come from geology, though. Unfortunately, it's often impossible to completely rule out one source over the other.

ANGUS: There are certain conditions that we need for the life that we're familiar with.

Do you think intelligent life is out there? This would provide a very strong signal for life.

"One of the many fantastic things that Kepler told us is that planets are everywhere and there are all kinds of planets out there". NASA's new planet-hunting mission, poised to launch Monday, aims to advance the search for extraterrestrial life by scanning the skies for nearby, Earth-like planets.

Even more years of scanning could follow.

The TESS survey will concentrate on stars called red dwarfs, smaller, cooler and longer-lived than our sun.

TESS will lead the way for a wealth of discoveries and deepen our understanding of many phenomena in the cosmos.