NASA satellite to search for habitable planets - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

NASA satellite to search for habitable planets

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), shown here in a conceptual illustration, will identify exoplanets orbiting the brightest stars just outside our solar system. (Source: NASA) NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), shown here in a conceptual illustration, will identify exoplanets orbiting the brightest stars just outside our solar system. (Source: NASA)

(RNN) – In spite of an aborted attempt Monday, NASA hopes to launch a new satellite soon that will search for planets outside of our solar system that could support life.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, also known as TESS, will survey the sky over the course of two years, attempting to find planets orbiting bright stars outside the solar system, according to NASA.

The satellite will travel into space on a two-stage SpaceX rocket known as the Falcon 9. Crews stopped Monday’s launch at Cape Canaveral to conduct additional guidance, navigation and control analysis, SpaceX reported.

Nevertheless, NASA reports TESS is “in excellent health” and remains ready for launch, which has been rescheduled for Wednesday night.

Once launched, scientists expect the satellite, which will observe over 85 percent of the sky, to catalog thousands of potential planets. Approximately 300 of those are expected to be Earth-sized or no larger than twice Earth-sized.

After this list has been compiled, NASA says the TESS mission will use the planets’ size, orbit and mass to determine their composition. The planets could be rocky, like Earth; gas giants, like Jupiter; or “something even more unusual.”

Astronomers in the future, including those working with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, are then expected to be able to study the atmospheres of many of the planets.

"We expect TESS will discover a number of planets whose atmospheric compositions, which hold potential clues to the presence of life, could be precisely measured by future observers,” said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in Cambridge.

One of the many expected results of the research is that scientists will learn how common is it that planets with a similar mass and size to that of Earth lie in the habitable zone, where planets can support liquid water under the right atmospheric conditions, according to Diana Dragomir, an astronomer at MIT.

“With this, we will be one big step closer to understanding how likely it is that life has evolved elsewhere in the Galaxy,” Dragomir said.

Ultimately, TESS' work will help pave the way toward discovering whether life exists – or could exist – on other planets.

“There's technical astrophysical issues that will interest a lot of the scientists in the community, but I think that the question that is going to catch the attention of the educated public is this big one: Are we alone?” said Harvard astronomer David Latham.

The data obtained by TESS will be publicly available, according to CNN, so anyone can assist in the search for planets. It will collect about 27 gigabytes – or 6,500 song files – per day and send data back every two weeks.

The mission will build on the earlier work of the Kepler space telescope, which launched in 2009, and helped scientists discover planets are extremely common space objects.

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