So far, the closest we have come to finding Earth-like planets in our Universe is by utilizing NASA’s Hubble, Kepler and Spitzer telescope which were all launched as general observatory platforms orbiting high above the Earth’s atmosphere.
NASA to date has discovered 3587 confirmed exoplanets that could have similar conditions to Earth using these platforms.
Kepler is known as the inaugural modern day planet hunter, launching in 2009, it found a comfortable little spot orbiting our planet and began to stare at a small patch of sky. 4 years of data revealed over 2000 exoplanets and there are still hundreds more being discovered from the information collected.
Now, a first of its kind exoplanet hunter is set to be launched into a high earth orbit on the back of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
NASA’s TESS (The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) is an explorer class planet finder and the first ever spaceborne all-sky transit surveyor. Current orbital telescopes are limited to focusing on one small patch of sky, TESS will survey the entire depth of Earth’s surrounding space.
“TESS will detect small rock-and-ice planets orbiting a diverse range of stellar types and covering a wide span of orbital periods, including rocky worlds in the habitable zones of their host stars.
TESS stars will be 30-100 times brighter than those surveyed by the Kepler satellite” - NASA
This new mission set to launch on 20th March of this year and could usher in a new era of exoplanet hunting. We could also see the number of habitable world discoveries increase exponentially.
According to NASA, TESS will be able to detect the fundamental properties of exoplanets such as mass, radius and orbit. It will also be able to determine atmospheric composition, emission spectrum and weather such as clouds and wind.
It isn’t clear just how many of these exoplanets will be habitable or similar to Earth, however, just some two decades ago exoplanets were just a theory and the idea of their existence was widely dismissed.
NASA has already found exoplanets with a similar atmosphere to our own so it’s not crazy to think there could be thousands more waiting to be discovered.