NASA and MIT to search for habitable planets


Life on Mars? This question has endured through centuries of scientific inquiry without a definite answer. We know that the world will end, albeit without consensus on when, so it became important to find a substitute planet where the human race can be spared at least for a time. In a search for the answer, NASA has joined MIT to find a habitable planet somewhere in the universe.

With significant funding from NASA, of $200 million, MIT will further develop their Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite(TESS). As stated on Forbes, the purpose is to expand the “search for planets outside of our own solar system.” I say expand because NASA has already started with Kepler, which examines 100,000 stars for habitable planets, around the Earth. But the difference is that TESS will not have those limits. According to project leader George Ricker, “TESS will carry out the first space-borne all-sky transit survey, covering 400 times as much sky as any previous mission. It will identify thousands of new planets in the solar neighborhood, with a special focus on planets comparable in size to Earth.” TESS also has several tools that will help gather more information on planets than Kepler does, and thus the question of if they really are habitable is more likely to be answered by TESS. And more specifically, they do not want to stop at just potentially habitable planets, they want to find ones that actually have life using instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA had another announcement, the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICE). This is an X-ray telescope to be added to the International Space Station, and according to Forbes it will be able to “detect X-rays produced by the bizarre forms of matter predicted to exist on the inside of neutron stars.” All this is part of NASA’s Explorer Program, which according to John Grunsfeld, “has a long and stellar history of deploying truly innovative missions to study some of the most exciting questions in space science. With these missions we will learn about the most extreme states of matter by studying neutron stars, and we will identify many nearby star systems with rocky planets in the habitable zone for further study.” TESS itself will be launched in 2017. Indeed, we may be within reach of an answer to that question. Is there another? We might not have to wait long to find out.

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