Over the past few months, the search for habitable, earth-like worlds orbiting other stars has begun to seem a lot less like finding a needle in a haystack. In January, Harvard-Smithsonian scientists estimated that about one in every six stars in the galaxy has an earth-sized planet. A month later, colleagues reported that potentially habitable worlds might be relatively close, astronomically speaking — just 13 light-years away.
Earlier this month, NASA announced that Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists will lead a $200 million mission to aid the search for such planets, called exoplanets, and send a refrigerator-sized telescope into orbit around the earth in 2017. The spacecraft, called TESS, will be a powerful tool for scientists, allowing them to scour hundreds of thousands of stars for signs of exoplanets of the right size, temperature, and distance from their suns to support life.