If it weren’t for the sun constantly showering us with energy, there would be no life on Earth. But eventually stars like it run out of fuel, expand into red giants and finally collapse into small, faint objects called white dwarfs. So what will happen to us and the other planets in our solar system when the sun dies? It’s not been entirely clear.
NASA’s newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is now providing valuable data to help scientists discover and study exciting new exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system. Part of the data from TESS’ initial science orbit includes a detailed picture of the southern sky taken with all four of the spacecraft’s wide-field cameras. This “first light” science image captures a wealth of stars and other objects, including systems previously known to have exoplanets.
The study of exoplanets has advanced by leaps and bounds in the past few decades. Between ground-based observatories and spacecraft like the Kepler mission, a total of 3,726 exoplanets have been confirmed in 2,792 systems, with 622 systems having more than one planet (as of Jan. 1st, 2018). And in the coming years, scientists expect that many more discoveries will be possible thanks to the deployment of next-generation missions.
In the hunt for extra-solar planets, astronomers and enthusiasts can be forgiven for being a bit optimistic. In the course of discovering thousands of rocky planets, gas giants, and other celestial bodies, is it too much to hope that we might someday find a genuine Earth-analog? Not just an “Earth-like” planet (which implies a rocky body of comparable size) but an actual Earth 2.0?