NASA on a mission on finding alien planets

For decades, scientists have always believed that we are not the only living beings in the universe. The UFO sightings and movies on extra-terrestrial people have often made one curious about them. With an interplanetary mission to Mars already on its plate, the American space organization NASA is set to launch a satellite for alien planet hunting in a few weeks. AS per the reports, the launch could take place as soon as 16 April.

The space agency is planning to launch the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It will be using a Falcon 9 rocket built by a private company, SpaceX, to launch TESS into Earth orbit. The new satellite is expected take about 60 days to reach its designated orbit which will place it between Earth and the moon every two and a half weeks. 

The refrigerator-sized satellite, having a mission life of two years and costing $337 million has in its wings instruments to collect energy from the sun. It also carries four special cameras to examine 200,000 stars which are relatively near the sun. The objective of TESS is to identify which of these have planets of their own. NASA scientists expect TESS to find thousands more currently unknown worlds. They believe that hundreds of these planets could be Earth-sized or super-Earth-sized and would hold the greatest chance of having surfaces or oceans. These planets would be most promising candidates for life on them.

Like NASA’s Kepler Telescope which helped scientists discover most of the almost 3,500 exoplanets documented in the past 20 years, TESS will use the transit photometry method to identify unknown planets. The researchers will observe the periodic and repetitive decreases in the visible light emitted by the stars to find the possible planets revolving it. Measuring the reduction in the intensity of the starlight can also help identify an exoplanet’s size and its orbital path.

 While Kepler only looked for stars within a small range of the sky, TESS will examine the majority of the sky for shorter durations. It will also direct much of its attention on red dwarf stars which are smaller, cooler and having life-span more than our sun. These stars are likely to have Earth-sized, rocky planets orbiting them. These planets can also possibly have fertile grounds. The researchers believe that signs of water and the types of gases similar to that or Earth can be an indication of life on them. TESS, on its own, won’t be finding out life beyond Earth but it will help the scientists to figure out where to point their larger telescopes for observations.