Astronomers are continuously searching for other planets, whether those reside right here in the solar system with us, or far away in another stellar system. The ongoing search for new planets is fueled by both captivation and curiosity, especially since humankind poses the particularly challenging question of whether we’re alone in the universe.
While NASA is actively perusing the bevy of worlds right here in our solar system, including the planets and the many moons that orbit them, astronomers are also searching far and wide to learn about exoplanets in other stellar systems. The Hubble and Kepler space telescopes have revealed a lot about the universe around us to date, but NASA hopes to learn more with its TESS mission, also known as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.
NASA isn’t just looking for other words; they’re also looking for potentially habitable worlds with conditions similar to Earth’s. Scientists think of ‘potentially habitable’ as a phase that worlds in a star’s habitable zone experience at some point in their lifetime, but much like the Earth, life takes a long time to develop under the right chemical conditions, and it doesn’t last forever.
Searching for a world like the Earth has proven to be particularly challenging, to say the least. Most exoplanet discoveries are reminiscent of Jupiter and are much too gassy to support life. Terrestrial (rocky) exoplanets, on the other hand, are of particular significance, especially if they exhibit water vapor in their atmospheres. Combined with the right circumstances, these worlds could potentially sport alien life.
Astronomers have tons of instruments at their disposal to search for potentially habitable worlds, and if we’re lucky, we’ll soon be able to add the James Webb Space Telescope to that list. This long-delayed space telescope will allow astronomers to glance at other worlds in a new light, potentially highlighting whether they’re capable of supporting life or not.