NASA is hoping to launch one of its most ambitious scientific missions into space this evening in the form of the Tess spacecraft.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will be launched into a distant orbit around the Earth where it will start searching our neighbouring star systems for planets just like Earth.
By measuring the brightness of some 200,000 stars, NASA hopes to discover as many as 20,000 new planets, 500 of which could potentially be habitable for alien life.
What makes Tess so exciting is the scale at which it’s working. We already have a spacecraft that searches for planets called Kepler.
Unlike Kepler however, Tess will be able to search an area 400 times larger.
In the nine years that it has been operational, Kepler has been instrumental in helping us discover new worlds. Analysing the data collected from Kepler scientists have discovered 2,343 exoplanets, 30 of which are believed to be Earth-sized in nature and within the habitable zone of their host stars.
It is however running low on fuel and is destined to become just another piece of space junk.
This is where Tess comes in, by measuring the dimming of a star as a planet passes in front of it scientists can then determine its size, weight and even the composition of its atmosphere.
Adding all these components together, scientists can then determine whether or not a planet is within what we know as the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ or the habitable zone.
This is when a planet is the right distant from the star to provide it with enough warmth for liquid water to exist and for life to survive.
If the launch this evening goes as planned, NASA has already predicted that Tess could discover as many as 1,600 new worlds within the first year of its operation.