SpaceX delayed the launch of NASA's TESS exoplanet-hunter spacecraft

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Source SpaceX Wikimedia Commons

At the moment when NASA's newest planet hunter launches, scheduled for Monday evening, astronomers will know of almost 4,000 alien worlds outside our solar system.

TESS, which follows the successful Kepler mission and the follow-up K2 mission, will survey 200,000 of the brightest stars near the sun to search for transiting exoplanets. This, as NASA said, will be 400 times larger than what Kepler observed. It also used the "transit technique" to confirm more than 2,000 so-called exoplanets.

"We expect TESS will discover a number of planets whose atmospheric compositions, which hold potential clues to the presence of life, could be precisely measured by future observers", said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator.

"Kepler is what made us become aware that planets are as common as telephone poles", SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak told Space.com.

The satellite, TESS, is the US space agency's newest planet-hunting spacecraft that will search for undiscovered planets outside of our solar system, known as exoplanets.

SpaceX and NASA TV will broadcast live video during TESS's launch at 6:32 p.m. EDT. Researchers would be able to use it to analyze the starlight that filters through the planets' atmospheres, looking for hints of habitability.

At a total cost of $337 million, the washing-machine-size spacecraft is built to search the nearest, brightest stars for signs of periodic dimming.

Technicians help prepare the spacecraft for its mission.

TESS is expected to reveal 20,000 planets beyond our solar system, known as exoplanets, Nasa said.

Among the new discoveries, they hope, will be a rocky world with an atmosphere that can be probed for signs of life.

According to the NASA, TESS will be scanning more than 50 Earth-like sized planets and about 500 planets which are less than the twice of the size of the planet Earth.

The planets found by TESS, however, might not be super-cozy little places, because the mission will mainly be targeting planets orbiting small stars called red dwarfs. Looking at light from across the whole sky, she said, it will inevitably find something to satisfy nearly everyone in the astronomy community.

"We can measure the stars' fundamental properties".

There are two ways to watch the telescope launch into space, so bookmark this page - and don't miss our in-depth coverage of TESS and how the mission could discover dozens of habitable rocky planets near Earth.

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