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The Hunt for Exoplanets Intensifies

Building on work of the Kepler mission, which has discovered Earth-sized exoplanets, NASA is funding three new projects that will carry our search for habitable worlds even further.

What’s the Latest Development?

NASA has promised to fund three new prospective missions that will search for habitable planets outside our own solar system, intensifying the search for exoplanets. One mission, called TESS, will look for “exoplanet transits, events when a planet passes in front of its star, causing a minute but periodic dimming of that star.” Unlike Kepler, which looks at a single region of the sky and recently discovered two Earth-sized exoplanets, TESS will scan the entire sky, focusing on stars about 200-light years from Earth.

What’s the Big Idea?

While TESS would search for new exoplanets, FINESSE would further study those already found by the Kepler mission, seeking primarily to characterize the planets’ atmospheres.  Kepler will continue to look for new exoplanets until at least this spring, when NASA will review the project and determine if its mission is worth the expense of extension. While promising, smaller missions such as these will remain NASA’s priority for the foreseeable future due to general budget constraints and the cost of the Webb Space Telescope.

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