SpaceX launches the alien planet-hunting TESS telescope today

SpaceX launches the alien planet-hunting TESS telescope today

SpaceX launches the alien planet-hunting TESS telescope today

The planned liftoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, remains scheduled for 6:32 p.m. EDT Monday from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

TESS - short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite - will search the sky to examine thousands of stars, sending vital information back to scientists on Earth to help them find planets that may be like our own.

During its two-year mission TESS will monitor the brightness of more than 200,000 stars, looking for the tell-tale drop in brightness caused by planetary transits (when an orbiting planet passes in front of the star).

TESS was originally conceived in 2006 as a private mission funded by, amongst others, Google and MIT. The mission will focus on planets circling bright stars that are less than 300 light-years from Earth. TESS will also be able to survey 20 times the amount of sky surveyed by Kepler from its High Earth Orbit.

Those future observations could help scientists piece together the compositions of the planets' atmospheres and maybe even establish whether they can host life as we know it. Musk plans to fly roughly 30 missions this year and has completed seven to date.

"These are the exoplanets that will be easiest to follow up, so that we can study the planets in great detail and learn more about their characteristics", Paul Hertz, who heads NASA's astrophysics division, said during a pre-launch briefing.

"TESS is just the first step in that journey", said Stephen Rinehart, TESS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

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