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Model: NASA; Graphic: Harry Stevens/Axios

Last week, NASA extended the life of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Telescope for two more years, through at least 2022.

Why it matters: TESS is tasked with searching for potentially Earth-like worlds around cool stars not far from our own, and it’s expected to find dozens of them during its life in space.

Scientists have found more than 4,000 confirmed exoplanets, with 21 of those thanks to TESS.

  • While researchers don’t yet have the technology to a figure out whether a world is Earth-like, the planets TESS finds could be good candidates for follow-up observations from future spacecraft that can answer that question.

Details: TESS is just at the end of the first year of its primary mission. In that time, the telescope discovered a variety of planets, including one that’s only about 80% the size of Earth.

  • For the telescope's next act, the satellite is expected to take a look at some areas already seen and observe the ecliptic, the part of the sky covered by the Sun’s path throughout the year, TESS scientist Sara Seager told Axios via email.

Background: TESS finds its planets by waiting for a world to pass in front of its star from Earth’s perspective. When that planet transits across the star, TESS can detect the small dip in light it causes, allowing scientists on Earth to learn more about its characteristics.

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