The ship designed especially for discovering exo-planets began to transmit scientific data last week. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) aims to find planets which gravitate other stars, similar to Earth. While the satellite was launched earlier in April, the real quest has started.
Using advanced instruments, it will be able to measure over 200,000 stars situated within 300 light-years of the Sun. While Kepler and K2 have observed such planets before, TESS will be able to analyze a higher number of stars and offer better maps of the known exo-planets such as those close to Proxima Centauri, which may feature extraterrestrial life according to some speculations.
The spacecraft features 4 high-power 16.9 megapixel featuring CCD cameras. Each image has the area of a common constellation. It is estimated that TESS will be able to capture 85% of the sky in less than 27 days, a huge increase over Kepler. The first batch of data feedback should arrive in August. TESS aims to be a survey mission, creating a catalogue of stars and possible orbiting planets. If the observed planets depict interesting features, they will be observed by other telescopes in order to determine properties such as mass, atmosphere surface features.
A key purpose of the project is to find signs of life, but it will take more time in order to develop technologies able to observe such details. It is hoped that some of the exo-planets may even host advanced life forms similar to those encountered on Earth. NASA aims to find habitable planets outside our solar system in order to explore them and even create future colonies. A project for Mars habitats is is full development and the possibility that we may encounter less hostile planets is attractive.
It remains to be seen what TESS will be able to find and how we may be able to reach those planets, should we find suitable planets.