NASA’s TESS mission, whose launch has been delayed until Wednesday, April 18th, will be responsible for detecting exoplanets and Earth-like planets. But it isn’t the first one with this mission. Let’s remember together some of the most important exoplanets “hunters”.
How are the exoplanets observed?
Space agencies are looking for worlds outside the solar system in two ways:
- With telescopes from Earth
- With space telescopes
One of the most used techniques is the transit method, which fixes the objective on a star and analyzes the changes in the star’s light to detect the objects that pass in front of the respective star.
According to certain characteristics of the exoplanets such as their orbit, atmospheric composition, magnetic field, and the activity of the star to which they orbit, it is possible to calculate whether they are or not within the zone of habitability.
The most important exoplanets hunter in history
The Kepler mission
Keppler was launched in 2009 in search of Earth-like planets in terms of living conditions but which are larger than our planet and which are orbiting stars of our galaxy.
Several failures in the telescope led NASA to end its mission in 2013 when 2,343 exoplanets were found. Just a few months later, NASA proposed to continue the mission by repairing Keppler. This second mission was dubbed K2 (The Second Light).
The Spitzer Telescope
It became operational in August 2003 and used infrared radiation to fulfill its mission, which included the search for exoplanets.
Like Kepler, it orbited around the Sun and not the Earth and, in 2009, it ran out of fuel, an event which ended this exoplanet hunter mission, as it will happen with Kepler.
Hubble Space Telescope
NASA’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope has been out there since 1990, helping scientists gather data and images. The long life of this space observatory is due, in part, to the fact that the astronauts could visit it to fix or calibrate the necessary instruments or install new ones. The James Webb telescope will be the successor of Hubble in terms of the matter of searching for Earth-like planets.
The terrestrial telescope LBTO
Among the observatories on the earth’s surface, the most outstanding is the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory (LBTO). It seeks exoplanets from Arizona, in the USA, and is funded by NASA. Besides, it is the largest optical telescopes in the world.
Despite the fact that is located at high altitude to avoid light and pollution, LBTO is more limited than space observatories due to the atmospheric turbulence.
A Bright Future For Exoplanets Search
The search for life on other planets, in general, is the dream mission for space agencies all over the world and, probably, the most important one since it might unveil, eventually, a positive answer to the oldest question of humanity – “Are we alone in the Universe?”.
Now, the NASA TESS mission will launch tomorrow, if everything goes OK, but will be followed by ESA Cheops, Plato, and Ariel missions, all trying to find Earth-like planets and extraterrestrial life.