MIT's teaming up with Google to design the first satellite that can really, truly search the sky for planets similar to Earth in size and terrain, taking us a giant step closer to making contact with extraterrestrials. Google is funding the development of a six high-res, wide-field digital cameras with a 192-megapixel resolution for TESS—the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. That's enough resolution to gauge the brightness of two million stars. MIT scientists are currently hard at work with the design of TESS' observatory.

Up until now, the only planets outside of our solar system that we've successfully detected are way bigger than earth. This is because most satellites detect planets by observing the pull their gravity exerts on the stars they orbit, so it's easier to find large planets orbiting close to their stars. TESS does things a little bit differently: it'll search for planets by measuring the amount of starlight it obscures, allowing astronomers to see a lot more planets of different calibers all at once. Examining the spectrum of a planet's star as it passes through its planet's atmosphere also lets researchers gauge the planet's size, temperature, and atmospheric chemistry much more accurately.

If all goes as planned, TESS could launch in 2012, and we could be making friends with aliens by 2013. Image by Tess Team


MIT aims to search for Earth-like planets with Google's help [MIT News]