NASA may soon identify 2400 alien planets

Artist concept of TESS in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star

Artist concept of TESS in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star

For the second time this week, NASA will attempt to launch its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite - TESS - aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. sent to orbit on Wednesday a planet-hunter spacecraft known as TESS, or the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.

On March 30, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched 10 next-generation satellites for Iridium Communications from California. The launch was originally set for Monday evening, but was delayed mere hours before TESS was set to take off. SpaceX was coy about the reasons behind the delay, citing the additional analysis of guidance, navigation, and control systems.

Once in orbit, the spacecraft will peer at hundreds of thousands of bright neighboring stars, seeking planets that might support life.

"One of the many incredible things that Kepler told us is that planets are everywhere", said Padi Boyd, the TESS guest investigator program lead from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. TESS is expected to identify thousands of potential new planets for further study and observation.

TESS will survey almost the entire sky, staring at a slice for 27 days before rotating to the next of 26 sections.

NASA's astrophysics director, Paul Hertz, said missions like Tess will help answer whether we're alone - or just lucky enough to have "the best prime real estate in the galaxy". This last part is important: TESS is keeping a special eye out for rocky-looking planets (rather than gaseous ones like Jupiter or Saturn), with the ultimate goal of allowing astronomers to follow up on promising leads with telescopes that can tell us more about the planets-something that isn't really possible with the Kepler-identified planets. The spacecraft aims to add thousands of exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, to the galactic map for future study. Kepler's camera sensors don't exactly take a picture of a planet, but look for the dimming effect caused by a planet passing in front of its star.

The Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990 aboard the space shuttle, and the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to lift off in 2020, should be able to reveal more about planets' mass, density and the makeup of their atmosphere - all clues to habitability.

Forecast was nearly flawless with 90% favorable weather outlook, only a slight concern that cumulus clouds might get really big.

TESS will be deployed into an elliptical orbit about 48 minutes after launch.

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