NASA will send the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center between April 16 and June. Its launch is yet another evidence of an undying enthrallment with space exploration.
TESS is NASA's next mission in search of exoplanets or planets that live outside our solar system. Enigmas at best, not much is known about them, particularly if they are viable places for life, like on Earth.
Kepler Space Telescope
Kepler has discovered some 3,500 potential planets and confirmed exoplanets so far. Following a mechanical failure in 2013, Kepler pivoted to a new campaign phase to survey other areas of the sky for exoplanets as part of the K2 mission.
Through this, researchers back home were able to discover even more exoplanets, acquire a greater understanding of the evolution of stars, and get more information about black holes and supernovae.
TESS is poised to survey an area that is 400 times larger than what Kepler will be able to observe. In two years, TESS will examine different areas of the sky, checking for stars using the transit photometry method where it will detect dips of brightness from stars as planets pass by them.
NASA expects TESS to discover thousands of more exoplanets, hoping that many of them are as big as Earth or slightly larger.
TESS will focus on red dwarf stars because of their high propensity to have Earth-sized and rocky planets in orbit, potentially offering fertile ground for closer examination.
Such worlds are believed to be harboring rocky surfaces and oceans and are therefore the most promising candidates for what's possibly our next home.
The Next Earth
Earth will not persist forever. The sun in the solar system will eventually explode and destroy the planet. If the human race wants to extend its lifespan, one solution is to find a habitable planet like Earth where life is possible.
However, it isn't possible for TESS to do this, says to David Latham, TESS science director for Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
"TESS itself will not be able to find life beyond Earth, but TESS will help us figure out where to point our larger telescopes," he said.
So far, less than 10 exoplanets the size of Earth or slightly larger than Earth, have been identified. With the help of TESS, NASA thinks that number could be doubled or even tripled.