Watch launch of TESS planet-hunting mission April 16

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There are potentially thousands of planets lurking outside our solar system - including those that could support life.

We now know that almost all stars have planets around them, and as our technology improves we keep finding more.

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 Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), the heir to NASA's Kepler exoplanet mission throne, is set to orbit Earth while pointing it's viewfinders out to space.

The satellite is created to seek out alien worlds circling far-off stars and reveal them to scientists on the ground. "Now, go after them". During its two years, the mission will survey more than 20 million stars and observe temporary drops in their brightness caused by planetary transits.

Even a small planet will block out at least a little bit of a star's light as it transits, and TESS should be able to see it when it does.

Equipped with four specialized cameras, TESS will be able to gaze at 85 percent of the entire sky, according to reports.

It is hoped that TESS will be able to locate other planets that resemble Earth in important ways, and Seager believes we have a fairly good chance of finding these planets with the new satellite.

Kepler found a massive trove of exoplanets by focusing on one patch of sky, which contained about 150,000 stars like the Sun. "Tess will find a pool of planets like that".

TESS will also take wide-field photos of a large portion of the sky every 30 minutes.

For centuries we knew of no planets beyond this solar system, until the first trickle of exoplanet discoveries in the 1990s.

Once launched, the new TESS satellite will be studied closely by NASA to keep a close eye on 200,000 stars.

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As MIT professor, Sara Seager, explained that NASA's new satellite will be the ideal tool for discovering which new exoplanets we should be studying next. "So it's got to be there somewhere".

TESS is essentially expected to provide a catalog like a phone book.

The satellite will look at stars that are only about 300 light-years away, potentially paving the way for follow-up observations of whatever planets might be found around those stars. Guerrero said that when TESS was being designed, one of its taglines was that it is the people's telescope and they are trying really hard to stay true to that goal.

While TESS looks for planets orbiting dwarf stars from space, the SPECULOOS survey will be looking at even smaller and dimmer stars from the ground.

In contrast, ground-based telescopes have searched wider swathes of the sky looking at many more brighter stars for transiting exoplanets.

In 2026, The European Space Agency is expected to launch PLATO, a satellite with the potential to discover rocky planets in Earth-like orbits with periods of a year.

The Kepler mission found 2,300 confirmed exoplanets and almost 4,500 candidates.

That said, TESS will help fill in the gaps left by the Kepler.

NASA's TESS space telescope will look for "cosmic winks" as a sign of planets outside our solar system.

The race will then begin to find biomarker molecules, such as free oxygen, in the atmosphere of an Earth-like exoplanet.

"Please be patient with us".

"Planet-hunting for habitable worlds is a generations long endeavor", Seager said in an interview. "Or, in this case, patience is a virtue!"

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