New planet-hunting satellite
NASA began a new era in the search for habitable worlds and alien life last week with the launch of a $337 million satellite into space. The space agency’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, known as TESS, will spend the next two years scanning the skies for planets orbiting the brightest nearby stars, The New York Times reports. The refrigerator-size spacecraft will begin its mission just as NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, which detected 2,343 confirmed exoplanets over the past nine years, runs out of fuel. Unlike Kepler, which stared at a single patch of sky, TESS will divide the heavens into 13 slices and focus on each section for 27 days. The satellite’s four cameras will capture telltale dips in light that occur when distant worlds are passing in front of their star. Overall, NASA estimates, TESS will find more than 20,000 new exoplanets, including 500 to 1,000 worlds in the habitable zone of their suns. Scientists will then examine each planet’s atmosphere for the chemical signatures of life, using powerful ground- and space-based telescopes, including the James Webb Space Telescope, which will join TESS in orbit in 2020.