NASA's new planet hunter set to launch from Cape Canaveral on Monday


NASA's Kepler spacecraft used the same method to spot more than 2,600 confirmed exoplanets, a lot of them orbiting faint stars 300 to 3,000 light-years away.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will give the search for habitable worlds a massive boost when it sets upon its journey to probe planets orbiting stars for signs of life, possibly increasing the catalogue of known exoplanets by 400 percent, Popular Mechanics reported. For now, we'll have to be satisfied with simply gazing into the depths of space, and the TESS satellite will certainly help with that.

"We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars", said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters.

The TESS spacecraft will be carried into orbit by SpaceX, and will ride one of the company's Falcon 9 rockets out of the atmosphere. After reaching orbit, TESS will execute several burns over the course of two months to reach a lunar flyby orbit before settling into a 2:1 resonance orbit with Earth's natural satellite in a highly elliptical Earth orbit.

TESS will be able to search 350 times more area of the sky than Kepler can, and is expected to find about 20,000 exoplanets in its first two years alone.

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It will do this by looking at how bright stars are shining, as a momentary dip in the brightness of a star could be caused by a planet moving across it. Kepler uses the same method, but it's peering out to a distance of around 3,000 light years in certain parts of the sky.

"90 per cent of the stars in the Milky Way emit in those red wavelengths, and then seem to have more planets than stars like the sun, especially smaller Earth-sized planets", says Ricker. Astronomers believe these are likely to be rocky planets that could support life.

TESS will spend two years scanning almost the entire sky - a field of view that can encompass more than 20 million stars.

It will focus on stars less than 300 light years away. The team is expecting to identify hundreds of super-Earth planets, including their mass, size, density, and orbital characteristics.