NASA is set to launch the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) on Monday, starting a new chapter in the search for planets that could potentially support extraterrestrial life.
During its mission, TESS will analyse thousands of relatively nearby stars for planets orbiting the stars.
According to NASA, scientists expect to find about 50 Earth-sized planets and about 20,000 exoplanets in total, of which the vast majority will probably be larger than Neptune, our solar system’s fourth biggest planet.
Exoplanets are planets that orbit a star other than the sun.
TESS will be sent into space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the launch of which is slated to take place at 10:30 GMT at the Cape Canaveral station in Florida.
It will take two weeks for the satellite to get in its planned orbit and will eventually be closer to the Moon than to Earth.
After two months of testing and calibrating its systems, TESS will start a two-year mission examining 200,000 stars looking for exoplanets.
Launching Monday, our planet-hunting @NASA_TESS spacecraft will fly in a unique orbit that'll allow it to study nearly the entire sky over 2 years. This special orbit is key in potentially finding thousands of new planets outside our solar system. Watch: pic.twitter.com/2ONGXewAji
— NASA (@NASA) April 16, 2018
Based on the light emitted by the stars, the satellite will be able to catalog thousands of planets, NASA said.
Combining that information with data gathered by telescopes on Earth scientists will be able to determine the make-up and mass of those planets.
The satellite, which cost about $200m, will build on work done by the Kepler telescope, which was able to catalogue about 2,300 exoplanets to date.
However, TESS will examine a much larger portion of the sky, about 85 percent in total. This is about 350 times more than Kepler, which has a similar mission to TESS but is only focused on a small part of the sky.
TESS will also look at stars that are much closer, about 30 to 300 lightyears away, than those examined by Kepler, which studied stars 300 to 3,000 light years away.
The planets found by TESS will be studied in depth by both scientists on Earth, as well as future space missions.
The launch of the James Webb telescope, the most powerful space telescope to date, is currently slated for 2020 and will continue research done by TESS.
One of the most important aspects of these exploratory space missions is for scientists to identify more planets that could potentially support life.
Based on Kepler’s data, our galaxy alone could potentially have 10 billion planets that could be habitable.
In total, scientists estimate there are about 100 billion galaxies in the Universe.