In Brief

Nasa launches planet-hunting telescope Tess – with help from Elon Musk

SpaceX founder’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully deploys satellite into orbit

Nasa has made its most ambitious bid yet to find life in outer space, with help from tech tycoon Elon Musk.

At 11.51pm UK time yesterday, Musk’s SpaceX firm sent one of its Falcon 9 rockets into orbit carrying Nasa’s new satellite-telescope, Reuters reports. 

Following the launch, from the Cape Canaveral in Florida, SpaceX successful returned the main booster stage of its rocket back to Earth’s surface, ready to be used again on future missions. 

The rocket’s payload, the Transit Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess), will take over the role of planet-hunting from the space agency’s soon-to-be decommissioned Kepler probe

Kepler has discovered thousands of exoplanets since launching in 2009, with another 2,345 worlds yet to be confirmed, but the space agency recently announced that the probe is due to run out of fuel “within several months”. 

With Tess, Nasa expects to drastically up the rate at which it discovers planets, The Daily Telegraph reports. The agency hopes the satellite will help them identify 20,000 worlds outside of our solar system over the next two years, including “50 Earth-sized planets”. 

Much like the Kepler telescope, says Sky News, Tess scans for “Earth-like” planets that are close enough to our own for scientists to study, particularly worlds that are the perfect distance from their central star to contain life. This area is known as the Goldilocks Zone. 

Once a planet has been discovered, scientists will use “strong telescopes” to search for signs of oxygen, methane and water, the broadcaster explains. 

Time says the satellite, which cost a “relatively inexpensive” $337m (£237m) to develop and launch, will begin orbiting Earth after passing “within a few thousand miles” of the Moon on 17 May.

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