NASA all set to launch next planet-hunting telescope

Space hunter: Scientists pin alien exoplanet hopes to NASA's latest sky scanner (VIDEO)

Billions and billions of worlds lurk beyond our solar system.

Alien planets large and small are usually drowned out by the light of their own stars when we try to spot them from Earth.

The satellite is created to seek out alien worlds circling far-off stars and reveal them to scientists on the ground. Guerrero said that the TESS team is working on the ways to share those findings publicly.

"One of the problems that we had with Kepler is that it looked at this really small patch of the sky, so unless your telescope was in the right position with the right instrument there you won't see it". It's like we're making a treasure map: Here are all these cool things. The targets TESS finds are going to be fantastic subjects for research for decades to come. For example, if a planet passes in front of a star, TESS will be able to measure a dip in luminosity and then determine whether a previously unknown world is out there. Separating those weak signals from the rest of the star's light will be exceedingly hard for small, rocky planets with compact atmospheres.

It'll take TESS about two years to survey around 85 percent of the sky, looking out at a field that includes more than 20 million stars, according to MIT.

In the words of NASA's Paul Hertz, when it comes to our search for alien planets, the net will increase greatly after the launch of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. The spacecraft will scan nearly all of the sky for neighboring stars, searching for the dips in their brightness that signal the presence of a planet.

And TESS could potentially last much longer than Kepler, which is set to run out of fuel sometime this year.

But if Kepler was a telephoto aimed at dim targets far in the distance, TESS is an ultra-wide-angle lens that will watch almost the entire visible sky.

"For the 30-minute images, people are excited about maybe seeing supernovae, asteroids, or counterparts to gravitational waves".

Once in orbit, TESS will spend about two years surveying 200,000 of the brightest stars near the sun to search for planets outside our solar system. "So it's got to be there somewhere".

"We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars", he said.

TESS, by contrast, will target stars that are less than 300 light-years away - and it will look in almost all directions.

TESS's predecessor, the Keppler Space Telescope, is a planet-hunting space telescope that was launched by NASA in 2009.

TESS will send its data back down to Earth using NASA's Deep Space Network in Canberra, Madrid, and California. So we can expect a sort of biweekly drip-drip of exoplanet news for quite some time.

Staring at bigger patches of the sky will also make it easier to see when stars blow up, says ANU's Dr Tucker, who studies supernovas found by Kepler.

"TESS is opening a door for a whole new kind of study", said Stephen Rinehart, one of the TESS project scientists, in a NASA release.

A few worlds TESS finds may be small, rocky bodies like Earth. "Or, in this case, patience is a virtue!"

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