A NASA spacecraft is due to blast off tonight in Florida to look for Earthlike worlds that could be home to alien life.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will search 200,000 of the closest, brightest stars.
The TESS is due to blast off tonight from Florida[/caption]
Ones that “blink” indicate a planet passing in front of them.
Scientists expect to find thousands of planets, including hundreds similar in size to our own, in a 300-light year range.
Tess is the size of a fridge with four wide-field digital cameras which will continuously scan the sky as it orbits the Earth on its two-year mission.
The mission’s chief scientist Stephen Rinehart, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said: “TESS is opening a door for a whole new kind of study.
The TESS will search 200,000 of the closest, brightest stars[/caption]
“The targets TESS finds are going to be fantastic subjects for research for decades to come. It’s the beginning of a new era of exoplanet research.”
TESS’s thousands of discoveries of likely exoplanets will be followed up by observations from ground-based telescopes.
These will measure each planet’s size, mass and the time it takes to orbit its star.
A new generation of powerful telescopes, including NASA’s Hubble replacement the James Webb Space Telescope, and the European Extremely Large Telescope in Chile, will make follow-up studies of the planets’ atmospheres, looking for signs of life including water.
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Professor Sara Seager, deputy director of science for TESS, said: “Water vapour on a small rocky planet is an indicator of habitability, because all life as we know it needs liquid water.
“On Earth, microbes have created all sorts of chemicals.
“Oxygen is number one to look for, plus other gases like methane, nitrous oxide and maybe hydrogen sulphide.”
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