On Wednesday, NASA launched its newest space mission TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey), a space telescope whose goal is to track down exoplanets, the planets that are outside our solar system. These distant exotic worlds –sometimes stranger than expected — could, why not, shelter life. At least, this is certainly the bet of the US space agency that hopes to advance research in this direction with this new mission.
With this new mission, it’s the same question as usual: Is there life elsewhere in the Universe? Even today, this question has no answer, but researchers are making progress.
Indeed, since the 1990s, scientits have known that there are other planets outside our solar system. 3,500 of these exoplanets, as they are called, have so far been discovered.
For the vast majority, we know that they are completely inhabitable; too cold, too hot, no water, etc. But for a small portion on the other hand, there is hope. Unfortunately, they are too far and too small to be observed more accurately with our current instruments.
TESS, NASA’s new telescope will not be powerful enough to take a closer look, but that’s normal, its mission is quite different. Its goal is to find interesting exoplanets close to us and to pinpoint their exact location. It is going to somehow, make a catalog and prepare the ground for the future.
Its successor already has a name: the James-Webb Space Telescope, a $ 10 billion juggernaut that will be launched in space in May 2020. With unparalleled observation capabilities, it will be up to it to eventually respond to the big question, but before that, TESS will have to fulfill its mission to tell it where to look.