NASA is conducting its largest planet-hunting mission by launching a new satellite to find "other worlds".
The Transit Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will investigate more than 200,000 nearby stars looking for "exoplanets" for at least two years – planets like ours in our solar system.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology-led mission will launch April 16 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a Falcon 9 rocket developed by Elon Musk's SpaceX.
It is expected to discover previously unknown worlds ranging from smaller planets to much larger gas giants, including some that could harbor life.
TESS will be sent into orbit to conduct observations with minimal atmospheric interference, which is expected to catalog about 500 Earth-sized "mini earth" and "super earth" plots from the spacecraft.
It will also discover small planets orbiting a multitude of stars, including rocky worlds in the habitable zones of their host stars.
The planets are identified by measuring small drops of light that occur when a planet flies over its parent's face.
Known as the "transit method" almost 4,000 such planets have been found using the same technique.
TESS Principal Investigator George Ricker, senior researcher at MIT's Kavli Institute, said these planets will be the focus astronomers will study "for centuries to come".
"And that's the excitement we have about this mission, it's really a mission for eternity," he said.
"There are a lot of things when you have an instrument that has such a large field of view that you look uninterruptedly into the sky, there is just an incredible amount of science that comes out that we are not even from TESS anticipate. "
With a weight of 362 kg and a price of 243 million US dollars, it is considered a more powerful successor to the former planetary space telescope Kepler NASA.
During his first mission, Kepler looked for stars more than a thousand light-years away and discovered more than 2,500 confirmed planets.
However, its capacity is overshadowed by TESS, which sees part of the sky more than 20 times larger than Keplar.
Ricker said that the "instantaneous field of view of TESS cameras, combined with their area and detector sensitivity, is unprecedented in a space mission."
NASA's most recent planetary discoveries include five exoplanets orbiting a sun-like star in the constellation Aquarius, nearly 620 light-years from Earth.
They are considered super-Earths, two to three times larger than our own.
Every fiery hot planet is incredibly close to its star and roams around its orbit in at most 1
Researchers attribute these discoveries to "Citizen Scientists" – some 10,000 from around the world – who have scoured publicly available K2 data, a consequence of Kepler.
Ian Crossfield, assistant professor of physics at MIT, said he hopes that these citizen scientists will be able to analyze the data made by TESS in a similar way.
"We look forward to more discoveries in the near future," he said. "We hope that the TESS mission … will also appeal to the public in this way.