Searching for planets beyond the Solar System
09 May 2013
An artist’s impression showing a planetary system
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The US space agency, NASA, recently announced that it will launch a new space mission for detecting exoplanets, planets beyond our Solar System, in 2017.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will scan the entire sky, searching for planets orbiting bright, nearby stars. It will succeed NASA's Kepler spacecraft, which is monitoring the brightness of thousands of stars in a small patch of the sky, to discover exoplanets crossing in front of their stars.

Scientists expect TESS, which has an estimated budget of over $200 million, will lift the veil on planets closer to Earth. "TESS will carry out the first space-borne all-sky transit survey, covering 400 times as much sky as any previous mission," said George Ricker, principal scientist for the TESS mission. "It will identify thousands of new planets in the solar neighborhood, with a special focus on planets comparable in size to the Earth."

TESS will carry a set of wide-field cameras observing stars for dips in brightness caused by orbiting planets blocking a tiny fraction of their light. It will be placed into a high-altitude elliptical orbit around Earth, for a two-year mission.

David Charbonneau, a TESS co-investigator, said the mission could find up to 300 Earth-sized planets in the solar neighborhood.

The planets discovered by TESS could be targeted by future powerful telescopes, particularly Earth-based telescopes and the James Webb Space Telescope, due for launch in late 2018.

With the help of other telescopes, TESS could allow scientists to study the masses, sizes, densities, orbits and atmospheres of small planets, revealing if these alien worlds could be habitable.


Aymen Mohamed Ibrahem
Senior Astronomy Specialist
News Center

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