An artist's illustration of an Earth-like planet. The search for planets that are similar to Earth is one of NASA's main goals. Many planets have already been discovered orbiting other stars, but so far only larger planets (the size of Jupiter or larger) have been found. New missions are being planned by NASA which will be able to detect smaller Earth-sized planets. Some of these missions will also try to detect signs of life on these planets by studying emissions in their atmospheres.


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

March 19, 2008

MIT scientists are designing a satellite-based observatory that they say could for the first time provide a sensitive survey of the entire sky to search for planets outside the solar system that appear to cross in front of bright stars. The system could rapidly discover hundreds of planets similar to the Earth.

Google, the Internet search powerhouse that in recent years has expanded to include mapping of the stars as well as the surfaces of the moon and Mars and which has an ongoing collaboration with NASA's Ames Research Center, provided a small seed grant to fund development of the wide-field digital cameras needed for the satellite. Because of the huge amount of data that will be generated by the satellite, Google has an interest in working on the development of ways of sifting through that data to find useful information.

Dubbed the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), the satellite could potentially be launched in 2012. "Decades, or even centuries after the TESS survey is completed, the new planetary systems it discovers will continue to be studied because they are both nearby and bright," says George R. Ricker, senior research scientist at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at MIT and leader of the project. "In fact, when starships transporting colonists first depart the solar system, they may well be headed toward a TESS-discovered planet as their new home."

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Google Joins MIT in Search for Earth-like Planets

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